Distinctive structures between chimpanzee and human in a brain noncoding RNA.
Human accelerated region 1 (HAR1) is a short DNA region identified recently to have evolved the most rapidly among highly constrained regions since the divergence from our common ancestor with chimpanzee. It is transcribed as part of a noncoding RNA specifically expressed in the developing human neocortex. Employing a panoply of enzymatic and chemical probes, our analysis of HAR1 RNA proposed a secondary structure model differing from that published. Most surprisingly, we discovered that the substitutions between the chimpanzee and human sequences led the human HAR1 RNA to adopt a cloverleaf-like structure instead of an extended and unstable hairpin in the chimpanzee sequence. Thus, the rapid evolutionary changes resulted in a profound rearrangement of HAR1 RNA structure. Altogether, our results provide a structural context for elucidating HAR1 RNA function.