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Protein Sci. Aug 1996; 5(8): 1594–1612.
PMCID: PMC2143486

Ribosome-mediated translational pause and protein domain organization.


Because regions on the messenger ribonucleic acid differ in the rate at which they are translated by the ribosome and because proteins can fold cotranslationally on the ribosome, a question arises as to whether the kinetics of translation influence the folding events in the growing nascent polypeptide chain. Translationally slow regions were identified on mRNAs for a set of 37 multidomain proteins from Escherichia coli with known three-dimensional structures. The frequencies of individual codons in mRNAs of highly expressed genes from E. coli were taken as a measure of codon translation speed. Analysis of codon usage in slow regions showed a consistency with the experimentally determined translation rates of codons; abundant codons that are translated with faster speeds compared with their synonymous codons were found to be avoided; rare codons that are translated at an unexpectedly higher rate were also found to be avoided in slow regions. The statistical significance of the occurrence of such slow regions on mRNA spans corresponding to the oligopeptide domain termini and linking regions on the encoded proteins was assessed. The amino acid type and the solvent accessibility of the residues coded by such slow regions were also examined. The results indicated that protein domain boundaries that mark higher-order structural organization are largely coded by translationally slow regions on the RNA and are composed of such amino acids that are stickier to the ribosome channel through which the synthesized polypeptide chain emerges into the cytoplasm. The translationally slow nucleotide regions on mRNA possess the potential to form hairpin secondary structures and such structures could further slow the movement of ribosome. The results point to an intriguing correlation between protein synthesis machinery and in vivo protein folding. Examination of available mutagenic data indicated that the effects of some of the reported mutations were consistent with our hypothesis.

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