Rearrangements within the U6 snRNA core during the transition between the two catalytic steps of splicing. Eysmont et al.
The RNA catalytic core of spliceosomes as visualized by cryo-EM remains unchanged at different stages of splicing. However, we demonstrate that mutations within the core of yeast U6 snRNA modulate conformational changes between the two catalytic steps. We propose that the intramolecular stem-loop (ISL) of U6 exists in two competing states, changing between a default, non-catalytic conformation and a transient, catalytic conformation. Whereas stable interactions in the catalytic triplex promote catalysis and their disruptions favor exit from the catalytic conformation, destabilization of the lower ISL stem promotes catalysis and its stabilization supports exit from the catalytic conformation. Thus, in addition to the catalytic triplex, U6-ISL acts as an important dynamic component of the catalytic center. The relative flexibility of the lower U6-ISL stem is conserved across eukaryotes. Similar features are found in U6atac and domain V of group II introns, arguing for the generality of the proposed mechanism.