The bacterial pheL gene encodes the leader peptide for the phenylalanine biosynthetic operon. Translation of pheL mRNA controls transcription attenuation and, consequently, expression of the downstream pheA gene. Fifty-three unique pheL genes have been identified in sequenced genomes of the gamma subdivision. There are two groups of pheL genes, both of which are short and contain a run(s) of phenylalanine codons at an internal position. One group is somewhat diverse and features different termination and 5′-flanking codons. The other group, mostly restricted to Enterobacteria and including Escherichia coli pheL, has a conserved nucleotide sequence that ends with UUC_CCC_UGA. When these three codons in E. coli pheL mRNA are in the ribosomal E-, P- and A-sites, there is an unusually high level, 15%, of +1 ribosomal frameshifting due to features of the nascent peptide sequence that include the penultimate phenylalanine. This level increases to 60% with a natural, heterologous, nascent peptide stimulator. Nevertheless, studies with different tRNAPro mutants in Salmonella enterica suggest that frameshifting at the end of pheL does not influence expression of the downstream pheA. This finding of incidental, rather than utilized, frameshifting is cautionary for other studies of programmed frameshifting
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