The mechanism by which RNA molecules assemble into unique three-dimensional conformations is important for understanding their function, regulation and interactions with substrates. The Tetrahymena group I ribozyme is an excellent model system for understanding RNA folding mechanisms, because the catalytic activity of the native RNA is easily measured. Folding of the Tetrahymena ribozyme is dominated by intermediates in which the stable P4-P6 domain is correctly formed, but the P3-P9 domain is partially misfolded. The propensity of the RNA to misfold depends on the relative stability of native and non-native interactions. Circular permutation of the Tetrahymena ribozyme shows that the distance in the primary sequence between native interactions also influences the folding pathway.

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