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Mol Cell Biol. Nov 1989; 9(11): 5073–5080.
PMCID: PMC363659

Context effects and inefficient initiation at non-AUG codons in eucaryotic cell-free translation systems.

Abstract

The context requirements for recognition of an initiator codon were evaluated in vitro by monitoring the relative use of two AUG codons that were strategically positioned to produce long (pre-chloramphenicol acetyl transferase [CAT]) and short versions of CAT protein. The yield of pre-CAT initiated from the 5'-proximal AUG codon increased, and synthesis of CAT from the second AUG codon decreased, as sequences flanking the first AUG codon increasingly resembled the eucaryotic consensus sequence. Thus, under prescribed conditions, the fidelity of initiation in extracts from animal as well as plant cells closely mimics what has been observed in vivo. Unexpectedly, recognition of an AUG codon in a suboptimal context was higher when the adjacent downstream sequence was capable of assuming a hairpin structure than when the downstream region was unstructured. This finding adds a new, positive dimension to regulation by mRNA secondary structure, which has been recognized previously as a negative regulator of initiation. Translation of pre-CAT from an AUG codon in a weak context was not preferentially inhibited under conditions of mRNA competition. That result is consistent with the scanning model, which predicts that recognition of the AUG codon is a late event that occurs after the competition-sensitive binding of a 40S ribosome-factor complex to the 5' end of mRNA. Initiation at non-AUG codons was evaluated in vitro and in vivo by introducing appropriate mutations in the CAT and preproinsulin genes. GUG was the most efficient of the six alternative initiator codons tested, but GUG in the optimal context for initiation functioned only 3 to 5% as efficiently as AUG. Initiation at non-AUG codons was artifactually enhanced in vitro at supraoptimal concentrations of magnesium.

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