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RNA. Dec 1996; 2(12): 1270–1285.
PMCID: PMC1369453

Genetic analysis of the Shine-Dalgarno interaction: selection of alternative functional mRNA-rRNA combinations.


The interaction of bacterial mRNAs with the small ribosomal subunit is strongly promoted by Watson-Crick base pairing between a purine-rich consensus ribosomal RNA-binding sequence (RBS) on mRNA and its complementary message-binding sequence (MBS) on rRNA known as the Shine-Dalgarno interaction. To identify and characterize components of the Shine-Dalgarno interaction that contribute to translation initiation, we simultaneously and randomly mutated both the MBS of the 16S rRNA gene from Escherichia coli and the RBS of the chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) gene and selected chloramphenicol-resistant mutant combinations. Nucleotide distribution in both mutated sequences of the survivors was nonrandom and the MBSs of the surviving clones showed a preference for purines. In addition, strong interactions between specific nucleotide pairs within each of the mutated sequences were indicated. Although the contribution of free energy of duplex formation between rRNA and mRNA was highly significant (P < 0.001), only 23% of the observed activity in all of the mutants could be attributed to this variable. MBSs that were lethal upon expression were also isolated. These sequences may cause overtranslation of specific messages in the cell. These data indicate that specific sequence constraints exist (primarily within the MBS) that are necessary to establish a functional threshold for translation and that only after establishment of this threshold is the level of expression significantly affected by the free energy of MBS-RBS duplex formation.

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