Ribozymes are folded catalytic RNA molecules that perform important biological functions. Since the discovery of the first RNA with catalytic activity in 1982, a large number of ribozymes have been reported. While most catalytic RNA molecules act alone, some RNA-based catalysts, such as RNase P, the ribosome, and the spliceosome, need protein components to perform their functions in the cell. In the last decades, the structure and mechanism of several ribozymes have been studied in detail. Aside from the ribosome, which catalyzes peptide bond formation during protein synthesis, the majority of known ribozymes carry out mostly phosphoryl transfer reactions, notably trans-esterification or hydrolysis reactions. In this review, we describe the main features of the mechanisms of various types of ribozymes that can function with or without the help of proteins to perform their biological functions.
Topoisomerases are the enzymes responsible for maintaining the supercoiled state of DNA in the cell and also for many other DNA-topology-associated reactions. Type IA enzymes alter DNA topology by breaking one DNA strand and passing another strand or strands through the break. Although all type IA topoisomerases are related at the sequence, structure and mechanism levels, different type IA enzymes do not participate in the same cellular processes. We have studied the mechanism of DNA relaxation by Escherichia coli topoisomerases I and III using single-molecule techniques to understand their dissimilarities. Our experiments show important differences at the single-molecule level, while also recovering the results from bulk experiments. Overall, topoisomerase III relaxes DNA using fast processive runs followed by long pauses, whereas topoisomerase I relaxes DNA through slow processive runs followed by short pauses. These two properties combined give rise to the overall relaxation rate, which is higher for topoisomerase I than for topoisomerase III, as expected from many biochemical observations. The results help us to understand better the role of these two topoisomerases in the cell and also serve to illustrate the power of single-molecule experiments to uncover new functional characteristics of biological molecules.