Recent studies have uncovered an unanticipated diversity of noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs), although these studies provide limited insight into their biological significance. Numerous general methods for identification and characterization of protein interactions have been developed, but similar approaches for characterizing cellular ncRNA interactions are lacking. Here we describe RNA Affinity in Tandem (RAT), an original, entirely RNA tag-based method for affinity purification of endogenously assembled RNP complexes. We demonstrate the general utility of RAT by isolating RNPs assembled in vivo on ncRNAs transcribed by RNA polymerase II or III. Using RAT in conjunction with protein identification by mass spectrometry and protein-RNA interaction assays, we define and characterize previously unanticipated protein subunits of endogenously assembled human 7SK RNPs. We show that 7SK RNA resides in a mixed population of RNPs with different protein compositions and responses to cellular stress. Depletion of a newly identified 7SK RNP component, hnRNP K, alters the partitioning of 7SK RNA among distinct RNPs. Our results establish the utility of a generalizable RNA-based RNP affinity purification method and provide insight into 7SK RNP dynamics.
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