The RNA chaperone Hfq, acting as a hexamer, is a known mediator of post-transcriptional regulation, expediting basepairing between small RNAs (sRNAs) and their target mRNAs. However, the intricate details associated with Hfq-RNA biogenesis are still unclear. Previously, we reported that the stringent response regulator, RelA, is a functional partner of Hfq that facilitates Hfq-mediated sRNA–mRNA regulation in vivo and induces Hfq hexamerization in vitro. Here we show that RelA-mediated Hfq hexamerization requires an initial binding of RNA, preferably sRNA to Hfq monomers. By interacting with a Shine–Dalgarno-like sequence (GGAG) in the sRNA, RelA stabilizes the initially unstable complex of RNA bound-Hfq monomer, enabling the attachment of more Hfq subunits to form a functional hexamer. Overall, our study showing that RNA binding to Hfq monomers is at the heart of RelA-mediated Hfq hexamerization, challenges the previous concept that only Hfq hexamers can bind RNA.
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