We describe the electron microscopic investigation of purified U4/U6 snRNPs from human and murine cells. The U4/U6 snRNP exhibits two morphological features, a main body approximately 8 nm in diameter and a peripheral filamentous domain, 7-10 nm long. Two lines of evidence suggest that the peripheral domain may consist of RNA and to contain U6 RNA as well as the 5' portion of U4 RNA. (a) Separation of the U4/U6 snRNA interaction regions from the core domains by site-directed cleavage of the U4 snRNA with RNase H gave filament-free, globular core snRNP structures. (b) By immuno and DNA-hybridization EM, both the 5' end of U4 and the 3' end of U6 snRNA were located at the distal region of the filamentous domain, furthest from the core. These results, together with our observation that the filamentous U4/U6 domain is often Y shaped, correlate strikingly with the consensus secondary structure proposed by Brow and Guthrie (1988. Nature (Lond.), 334:213-218), where U4 and U6 snRNA are base paired in such a way that two U4/U6 helices together with a stem/loop of U4 snRNA make up a Y-shaped U4/U6 interaction domain.

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