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The universally conserved GTPase HflX is an RNA helicase that restores heat-damaged Escherichia coli ribosomes

The ribosome-associated GTPase HflX acts as an antiassociation factor upon binding to the 50S ribosomal subunit during heat stress in Escherichia coli. Although HflX is recognized as a guanosine triphosphatase, several studies have shown that the N-terminal domain 1 of HflX is capable of hydrolyzing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), but the functional role of its adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) activity remains unknown. We demonstrate that E. coli HflX possesses ATP-dependent RNA helicase activity and is capable of unwinding large subunit ribosomal RNA. A cryo–electron microscopy structure of the 50S–HflX complex in the presence of nonhydrolyzable analogues of ATP and guanosine triphosphate hints at a mode of action for the RNA helicase and suggests the linker helical domain may have a determinant role in RNA unwinding. Heat stress results in inactivation of the ribosome, and we show that HflX can restore heat-damaged ribosomes and improve cell survival.

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