Cooperative effects by the initiation codon and its flanking regions on translation initiation

C Magnus StenströmLeif A Isaksson


The purine-rich Shine-Dalgarno (SD) sequence located a few bases upstream of the mRNA initiation codon supports translation initiation by complementary binding to the anti-SD in the 16S rRNA, close to its 3' end. AUG is the canonical initiation codon but the weaker UUG and GUG codons are also used for a minority of genes. The codon sequence of the downstream region (DR), including the +2 codon immediately following the initiation codon, is also important for initiation efficiency. We have studied the interplay between these three initiation determinants on gene expression in growing Escherichia coli. One optimal SD sequence (SD(+)) and one lacking any apparent complementarity to the anti-SD in 16S rRNA (SD(-)) were analyzed. The SD(+) and DR sequences affected initiation in a synergistic manner and large differences in the effects were found. The gene expression level associated with the most efficient of these DRs together with SD(-) was comparable to that of other DRs together with SD(+). The otherwise weak initiation codon UUG, but not GUG, was comparable with AUG in strength, if placed in the context of two of the DRs. The +2 codon was one, but not the only, determinant for this unexpectedly high efficiency of UUG.


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