Translation Control by RNA

Abstract

Translation control by RNA (ribonucleic acid) refers to the process by which protein synthesis is regulated by structural elements in RNA (primary, secondary or tertiary), often cis‐acting in the messenger RNA encoding the protein being synthesized, and also trans‐acting in a number of systems.

Keywords: RNA bacteriophage; antisense RNA; mRNA stability; translational coupling; translational enhancers; translational attenuation; codon bias

Figure 1.

Translational control in RNA phage. Schematic diagram depicts the principle of how RNA structure governs relative translation of the coat and replicase protein genes. Note that protein synthesis proceeds, as always, from the 5′ to 3′ direction (indicated) on the messenger RNA (mRNA). (a) The ribosome‐binding site (rbs) and the start codon (AUG) of the coat protein are exposed and accessible to ribosomes so that translation of the coat gene proceeds readily. However, the rbs and the AUG (read right to left) of the replicase gene are buried in the RNA structure (selected hydrogen bonds are depicted as short vertical lines between the upper and lower portions of the RNA chain) and not accessible to ribosomes, so this gene is not translated unless the structure is opened up. (b) Ribosomes translating the upstream coat gene open the RNA structure when they proceed past approximately codons 30–40 (indicated earlier the upper portion of the RNA chain), allowing the replicase gene, rbs and AUG to be accessible to other ribosomes, which can now start translating the replicase gene.

Figure 2.

Example of prokaryotic RNA secondary structure control. Schematic diagram depicts the principle of how alternate forms of messenger RNA (mRNA) can lead to either inhibition or expression. A longer form of the mRNA, starting from promoter P1, folds into a structure such that the ribosome‐binding site (rbs) and the start codon (AUG) are occluded in a stem–loop, and are inaccessible to ribosomes. A shorter form of the mRNA, starting from promoter P2, does not form the inhibitory structure, therefore the rbs and AUG are available for ribosomes to commence translation.

Figure 3.

Model of translational attenuation. The ribosome‐binding site (rbs) and start codon (AUG) for the antibiotic resistance gene are masked by the secondary structure of the message in (a), therefore ribosomes cannot translate the message for the resistance gene. However, when ribosomes begin translation at the rbs and AUG of the upstream translation start in the leader region, and a short nascent leader peptide is synthesized, the ribosomes will stall during translation of the leader peptide in the presence of sublethal concentrations of antibiotic. This opens up the secondary structure, exposing the translation start site for the resistance gene, which is now expressed, as shown in (b).

Figure 4.

Schematic drawing of how antisense RNA inhibits translation of a target message. The ribosome‐binding site (rbs) and start codon (AUG) to initiate translation of a coding region is accessible to ribosomes in (a). Antisense RNA encompassing the translation initiation region binds to the mRNA, and obscures the start site from ribosomes in (b). Note that the orientation of the antisense RNA is antiparallel to mRNA, i.e. 5′ to 3′ is in the opposite direction.

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Goldman, Emanuel(Dec 2008) Translation Control by RNA. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000859.pub2]