Adenosine deaminases acting on RNA (ADAR1 and ADAR2) are human RNA-editing adenosine deaminases responsible for the conversion of adenosine to inosine at specific locations in cellular RNAs. Since inosine is recognized during translation as guanosine, this often results in the expression of protein sequences different from those encoded in the genome. While our knowledge of the ADAR2 structure and catalytic mechanism has grown over the years, our knowledge of ADAR1 has lagged. This is due, at least in part, to the lack of well defined, small RNA substrates useful for mechanistic studies of ADAR1. Here, we describe an ADAR1 substrate RNA that can be prepared by a combination of chemical synthesis and enzymatic ligation. Incorporation of adenosine analogs into this RNA and analysis of the rate of ADAR1 catalyzed deamination revealed similarities and differences in the way the ADARs recognize the edited nucleotide. Importantly, ADAR1 is more dependent than ADAR2 on the presence of N7 in the edited base. This difference between ADAR1 and ADAR2 appears to be dependent on the identity of a single amino acid residue near the active site. Thus, this work provides an important starting point in defining mechanistic differences between two functionally distinct human RNA editing ADARs.
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