Secondary and 3D structure of large RNA fragments -- a summary of algorithms (6)
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RNA integrity -- latest papers (5)

RNA structure

Secondary and 3D structure of large RNA fragments -- a summary of algorithms

The mFOLD Web Server

Mfold web server for nucleic acid folding and hybridization prediction.
Zuker M
Nucleic Acids Res. 2003 Jul 1;31(13):3406-15.

The abbreviated name, 'mfold web server', describes a number of closely related software applications available on the World Wide Web (WWW) for the prediction of the secondary structure of single stranded nucleic acids. The objective of this web server is to provide easy access to RNA and DNA folding and hybridization software to the scientific community at large. By making use of universally available web GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces), the server circumvents the problem of portability of this software. Detailed output, in the form of structure plots with or without reliability information, single strand frequency plots and 'energy dot plots', are available for the folding of single sequences. A variety of 'bulk' servers give less information, but in a shorter time and for up to hundreds of sequences at once. The portal for the mfold web server is This URL will be referred to as 'MFOLDROOT'.

RNAML: a standard syntax for exchanging RNA information.
Waugh A, Gendron P, Altman R, Brown JW, Case D, Gautheret D, Harvey SC, Leontis N, Westbrook J, Westhof E, Zuker M, Major F.
RNA. 2002 8(6): 707-717

Analyzing a single data set using multiple RNA informatics programs often requires a file format conversion between each pair of programs, significantly hampering productivity. To facilitate the interoperation of these programs, we propose a syntax to exchange basic RNA molecular information. This RNAML syntax allows for the storage and the exchange of information about RNA sequence and secondary and tertiary structures. The syntax permits the description of higher level information about the data including, but not restricted to, base pairs, base triples, and pseudoknots. A class-oriented approach allows us to represent data common to a given set of RNA molecules, such as a sequence alignment and a consensus secondary structure. Documentation about experiments and computations, as well as references to journals and external databases, are included in the syntax. The chief challenge in creating such a syntax was to determine the appropriate scope of usage and to ensure extensibility as new needs will arise. The syntax complies with the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) recommendations, a widely accepted standard for syntax specifications. In addition to the various generic packages that exist to read and interpret XML formats, an XML processor was developed and put in the open-source MC-Core library for nucleic acid and protein structure computer manipulation.

Using reliability information to annotate RNA secondary structures.
Zuker M and Jacobson AB.
RNA. 1998 4(6): 669-679.

A number of heuristic descriptors have been developed previously in conjunction with the mfold package that describe the propensity of individual bases to participate in base pairs and whether or not a predicted helix is "well-determined." They were developed for the "energy dot plot" output of mfold. Two descriptors, P-num and H-num, are used to measure the level of promiscuity in the association of any given nucleotide or helix with alternative complementary pairs. The third descriptor, S-num, measures the propensity of bases to be single-stranded. In the current work, we describe a series of programs that were developed in order to annotate individual structures with "well-definedness" information. We use color annotation to present the information. The programs can annotate PostScript files that are created by the mfold package or the PostScript secondary structure plots produced by the Weiser and Noller program XRNA (Weiser B, Noller HF, 1995, XRNA: Auto-interactive program for modeling RNA, The Center for Molecular Biology of RNA, Santa Cruz, California: University of California; Internet: In addition, these programs can annotate ss files that serve as input to XRNA. The annotation package can also handle structure comparison with a reference structure. This feature can be used to compare predicted structure with a phylogenetically deduced model, to compare two different predicted foldings, and to identify conformational changes that are predicted between wild-type and mutant RNAs. We provide several examples of application. Predicted structures of two RNase P RNAs were colored with P-num information and further annotated with comparative information. The comparative model of a 16S rRNA was annotated with P-num information from mfold and with base pair probabilities obtained from the Vienna RNA folding package. Further annotation adds comparisons with the optimal foldings obtained from mfold and the Vienna package, respectively. The results of all of these analyses are discussed in the context of the reliability of structure prediction.

Folding and Finding RNA Secondary Structure.
David H. Mathews, Walter N. Moss, and Douglas H. Turner
Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2010 Dec; 2(12): a003665.

Optimal exploitation of the expanding database of sequences requires rapid finding and folding of RNAs. Methods are reviewed that automate folding and discovery of RNAs with algorithms that couple thermodynamics with chemical mapping, NMR, and/or sequence comparison. New functional noncoding RNAs in genome sequences can be found by combining sequence comparison with the assumption that functional noncoding RNAs will have more favorable folding free energies than other RNAs. When a new RNA is discovered, experiments and sequence comparison can restrict folding space so that secondary structure can be rapidly determined with the help of predicted free energies. In turn, secondary structure restricts folding in three dimensions, which allows modeling of three-dimensional structure. An example from a domain of a retrotransposon is described. Discovery of new RNAs and their structures will provide insights into evolution, biology, and design of therapeutics. Applications to studies of evolution are also reviewed.

Sfold web server for statistical folding and rational design of nucleic acids.
Ding Y, Chan CY, Lawrence CE.
Nucleic Acids Res. 2004 Jul 1;32(Web Server issue):W135-41.

The Sfold web server provides user-friendly access to Sfold, a recently developed nucleic acid folding software package, via the World Wide Web (WWW). The software is based on a new statistical sampling paradigm for the prediction of RNA secondary structure. One of the main objectives of this software is to offer computational tools for the rational design of RNA-targeting nucleic acids, which include small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), antisense oligonucleotides and trans-cleaving ribozymes for gene knock-down studies. The methodology for siRNA design is based on a combination of RNA target accessibility prediction, siRNA duplex thermodynamic properties and empirical design rules. Our approach to target accessibility evaluation is an original extension of the underlying RNA folding algorithm to account for the likely existence of a population of structures for the target mRNA. In addition to the application modules Sirna, Soligo and Sribo for siRNAs, antisense oligos and ribozymes, respectively, the module Srna offers comprehensive features for statistical representation of sampled structures. Detailed output in both graphical and text formats is available for all modules. The Sfold server is available at

RNAssess -- a web server for quality assessment of RNA 3D structures.
Lukasiak P, Antczak M, Ratajczak T, Szachniuk M, Popenda M, Adamiak RW, Blazewicz J
Nucleic Acids Res. 2015 Jun 11

Nowadays, various methodologies can be applied to model RNA 3D structure. Thus, the plausible quality assessment of 3D models has a fundamental impact on the progress of structural bioinformatics. Here, we present RNAssess server, a novel tool dedicated to visual evaluation of RNA 3D models in the context of the known reference structure for a wide range of accuracy levels (from atomic to the whole molecule perspective). The proposed server is based on the concept of local neighborhood, defined as a set of atoms observed within a sphere localized around a central atom of a particular residue. A distinctive feature of our server is the ability to perform simultaneous visual analysis of the model-reference structure coherence. RNAssess supports the quality assessment through delivering both static and interactive visualizations that allows an easy identification of native-like models and/or chosen structural regions of the analyzed molecule. A combination of results provided by RNAssess allows us to rank analyzed models. RNAssess offers new route to a fast and efficient 3D model evaluation suitable for the RNA-Puzzles challenge. The proposed automated tool is implemented as a free and open to all users web server with an user-friendly interface and can be accessed at:

Automated 3D structure composition for large RNAs.
Popenda M, Szachniuk M, Antczak M, Purzycka KJ, Lukasiak P, Bartol N, Blazewicz J, Adamiak RW.
Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 40(14): e112

Understanding the numerous functions that RNAs play in living cells depends critically on knowledge of their three-dimensional structure. Due to the difficulties in experimentally assessing structures of large RNAs, there is currently great demand for new high-resolution structure prediction methods. We present the novel method for the fully automated prediction of RNA 3D structures from a user-defined secondary structure. The concept is founded on the machine translation system. The translation engine operates on the RNA FRABASE database tailored to the dictionary relating the RNA secondary structure and tertiary structure elements. The translation algorithm is very fast. Initial 3D structure is composed in a range of seconds on a single processor. The method assures the prediction of large RNA 3D structures of high quality. Our approach needs neither structural templates nor RNA sequence alignment, required for comparative methods. This enables the building of unresolved yet native and artificial RNA structures. The method is implemented in a publicly available, user-friendly server RNAComposer. It works in an interactive mode and a batch mode. The batch mode is designed for large-scale modelling and accepts atomic distance restraints. Presently, the server is set to build RNA structures of up to 500 residues.

RNA FRABASE 2.0 -- an advanced web-accessible database with the capacity to search the three-dimensional fragments within RNA structures.
Popenda M, Szachniuk M, Blazewicz M, Wasik S, Burke EK, Blazewicz J, Adamiak RW.
BMC Bioinformatics. 2010 11: 231

BACKGROUND: Recent discoveries concerning novel functions of RNA, such as RNA interference, have contributed towards the growing importance of the field. In this respect, a deeper knowledge of complex three-dimensional RNA structures is essential to understand their new biological functions. A number of bioinformatic tools have been proposed to explore two major structural databases (PDB, NDB) in order to analyze various aspects of RNA tertiary structures. One of these tools is RNA FRABASE 1.0, the first web-accessible database with an engine for automatic search of 3D fragments within PDB-derived RNA structures. This search is based upon the user-defined RNA secondary structure pattern. In this paper, we present and discuss RNA FRABASE 2.0. This second version of the system represents a major extension of this tool in terms of providing new data and a wide spectrum of novel functionalities. An intuitionally operated web server platform enables very fast user-tailored search of three-dimensional RNA fragments, their multi-parameter conformational analysis and visualization.
DESCRIPTION:  RNA FRABASE 2.0 has stored information on 1565 PDB-deposited RNA structures, including all NMR models. The RNA FRABASE 2.0 search engine algorithms operate on the database of the RNA sequences and the new library of RNA secondary structures, coded in the dot-bracket format extended to hold multi-stranded structures and to cover residues whose coordinates are missing in the PDB files. The library of RNA secondary structures (and their graphics) is made available. A high level of efficiency of the 3D search has been achieved by introducing novel tools to formulate advanced searching patterns and to screen highly populated tertiary structure elements. RNA FRABASE 2.0 also stores data and conformational parameters in order to provide "on the spot" structural filters to explore the three-dimensional RNA structures. An instant visualization of the 3D RNA structures is provided. RNA FRABASE 2.0 is freely available at
CONCLUSIONS:  RNA FRABASE 2.0 provides a novel database and powerful search engine which is equipped with new data and functionalities that are unavailable elsewhere. Our intention is that this advanced version of the RNA FRABASE will be of interest to all researchers working in the RNA field.

Towards 3D structure prediction of large RNA molecules: an integer programming framework to insert local 3D motifs in RNA secondary structure.
Reinharz V, Major F, Waldispühl J
Bioinformatics. 2012 Jun 15;28(12): i207-214

MOTIVATION:  The prediction of RNA 3D structures from its sequence only is a milestone to RNA function analysis and prediction. In recent years, many methods addressed this challenge, ranging from cycle decomposition and fragment assembly to molecular dynamics simulations. However, their predictions remain fragile and limited to small RNAs. To expand the range and accuracy of these techniques, we need to develop algorithms that will enable to use all the structural information available. In particular, the energetic contribution of secondary structure interactions is now well documented, but the quantification of non-canonical interactions-those shaping the tertiary structure-is poorly understood. Nonetheless, even if a complete RNA tertiary structure energy model is currently unavailable, we now have catalogues of local 3D structural motifs including non-canonical base pairings. A practical objective is thus to develop techniques enabling us to use this knowledge for robust RNA tertiary structure predictors.
RESULTS:  In this work, we introduce RNA-MoIP, a program that benefits from the progresses made over the last 30 years in the field of RNA secondary structure prediction and expands these methods to incorporate the novel local motif information available in databases. Using an integer programming framework, our method refines predicted secondary structures (i.e. removes incorrect canonical base pairs) to accommodate the insertion of RNA 3D motifs (i.e. hairpins, internal loops and k-way junctions). Then, we use predictions as templates to generate complete 3D structures with the MC-Sym program. We benchmarked RNA-MoIP on a set of 9 RNAs with sizes varying from 53 to 128 nucleotides. We show that our approach (i) improves the accuracy of canonical base pair predictions; (ii) identifies the best secondary structures in a pool of suboptimal structures; and (iii) predicts accurate 3D structures of large RNA molecules.
AVAILABILITY:  RNA-MoIP is publicly available at:

Web 3DNA -- a web server for the analysis, reconstruction, and visualization of three-dimensional nucleic-acid structures.
Zheng G, Lu XJ, Olson WK.
Nucleic Acids Res. 2009 Jul;37(Web Server issue): W240-246

The w3DNA (web 3DNA) server is a user-friendly web-based interface to the 3DNA suite of programs for the analysis, reconstruction, and visualization of three-dimensional (3D) nucleic-acid-containing structures, including their complexes with proteins and other ligands. The server allows the user to determine a wide variety of conformational parameters in a given structure--such as the identities and rigid-body parameters of interacting nucleic-acid bases and base-pair steps, the nucleotides comprising helical fragments, etc. It is also possible to build 3D models of arbitrary nucleotide sequences and helical types, customized single-stranded and double-helical structures with user-defined base-pair parameters and sequences, and models of DNA 'decorated' at user-defined sites with proteins and other molecules. The visualization component offers unique, publication-quality representations of nucleic-acid structures, such as 'block' images of bases and base pairs and stacking diagrams of interacting nucleotides. The w3DNA web server, located at, is free and open to all users with no login requirement.

Computational Methods for RNA Structure Validation and Improvement.
Jain S, Richardson DC, Richardson JS
Methods Enzymol. 2015; 558: 181-212

With increasing recognition of the roles RNA molecules and RNA/protein complexes play in an unexpected variety of biological processes, understanding of RNA structure-function relationships is of high current importance. To make clean biological interpretations from three-dimensional structures, it is imperative to have high-quality, accurate RNA crystal structures available, and the community has thoroughly embraced that goal. However, due to the many degrees of freedom inherent in RNA structure (especially for the backbone), it is a significant challenge to succeed in building accurate experimental models for RNA structures. This chapter describes the tools and techniques our research group and our collaborators have developed over the years to help RNA structural biologists both evaluate and achieve better accuracy. Expert analysis of large, high-resolution, quality-conscious RNA datasets provides the fundamental information that enables automated methods for robust and efficient error diagnosis in validating RNA structures at all resolutions. The even more crucial goal of correcting the diagnosed outliers has steadily developed toward highly effective, computationally based techniques. Automation enables solving complex issues in large RNA structures, but cannot circumvent the need for thoughtful examination of local details, and so we also provide some guidance for interpreting and acting on the results of current structure validation for RNA.