Studies of bacterial and eukaryotic systems have identified two-gene operons in which the translation product of the upstream gene influences translation of the downstream gene. The upstream gene, referred to as a leader (gene) in bacterial systems or an upstream open reading frame (uORF) in eukaryotes, encodes a peptide that interferes with a function(s) of its translating ribosome. The peptides are therefore cis-acting negative regulators of translation. The inhibitory peptides typically consist of fewer than 25 residues and function prior to emergence from the ribosome. A biological role for this class of translation inhibitor is demonstrated in translation attenuation, a form or regulation that controls the inducible translation of the chloramphenicol resistance genes cat and cmlA in bacteria. Induction of cat or cmlA requires ribosome stalling at a particular codon in the leader region of the mRNA. Stalling destabilizes an adjacent, downstream mRNA secondary structure that normally sequesters the ribosome-binding site for the cat or cmlA coding regions. Genetic studies indicate that the nascent, leader-encoded peptide is the selector of the site of ribosome stalling in leader mRNA by cis interference with translation. Synthetic leader peptides inhibit ribosomal peptidyltransferase in vitro, leading to the prediction that this activity is the basis for stall site selection. Recent studies have shown that the leader peptides are rRNA-binding peptides with targets at the peptidyl transferase center of 23S rRNA. uORFs associated with several eukaryotic genes inhibit downstream translation. When inhibition depends on the specific codon sequence of the uORF, it has been proposed that the uORF-encoded nascent peptide prevents ribosome release from the mRNA at the uORF stop codon. This sets up a blockade to ribosome scanning which minimizes downstream translation. Segments within large proteins also appear to regulate ribosome activity in cis, although in most of the known examples the active amino acid sequences function after their emergence from the ribosome, cis control of translation by the nascent peptide is gene specific; nearly all such regulatory peptides exert no obvious trans effects in cells. The in vitro biochemical activities of the cat/cmla leader peptides on ribosomes and rRNA suggest a mechanism through which the nascent peptide can modify ribosome behavior. Other cis-acting regulatory peptides may involve more complex ribosomal interactions
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