Only interaction sites in sRNAs, but not in targets, show significant sequence conservation. In addition to this observation, we found that the base pairing between sRNAs and their targets is not conserved in general across more distantly related species. A closer inspection of RybB and RyhB sRNAs and their targets revealed that the base pairing complementarity is only conserved in a small subset of the targets. In contrast to conservation, accessibility of functional interaction sites is significantly higher in both sRNAs and targets in comparison to non-functional sites. Based on the above observations, we successfully used the following constraints to improve the specificity of genome-wide target predictions: the region of interaction initiation must be located in (1) highly accessible regions in both interaction partners or (2) unstructured conserved sRNA regions derived from reliability profiles of multiple sRNA alignments.
Aligned sequences of homologous sRNAs, functional and non-functional targets, and a sup document with sup tables, figures and references are available at www.bioinf.uni-freiburg.de/Supplements/srna-interact-feat/.