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EMBO J. May 1, 1997; 16(9): 2482–2492.
PMCID: PMC1169848

Recognition of AUG and alternative initiator codons is augmented by G in position +4 but is not generally affected by the nucleotides in positions +5 and +6.

Abstract

A primer extension (toeprinting) assay was used to monitor selection by ribosomes of the first versus the second AUG codon as a function of introducing mutations on the 3' side (positions +4, +5 and +6) of the first AUG codon. Six different flanking codons starting with G (GCG, GCU, GCC, GCA, GAU and GGA) strongly augmented selection of AUG#1 when compared with matched mRNAs that had A or C instead of G in position +4. Augmentation by G in position +4 failed only when it was combined with U in position +5, as in the sequence augGUA. In contrast with the usual enhancing effect of introducing G in position +4, most mutations in position +5 had no discernible effect, as shown with the series augANA (where N = C, A, G or U) and the series augCNA. AUG codon recognition was also unaffected by mutations in position +6, as shown by testing four mRNAs that had augCCN as the start site. Thus the primary sequence context that augments the recognition of AUG start codons does not appear generally to extend beyond G in position +4. When the toeprinting assay was used with mRNAs that initiate translation at CUG instead of AUG, cugGAU was not recognized better than cugGGU, contradicting the hypothesis that initiation at non-AUG codons might be favored by A instead of G in position +5.

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