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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Feb 20; 93(4): 1596–1600.

An RNA structure involved in feedback regulation of splicing and of translation is critical for biological fitness.


While studies of the regulation of gene expression have generally concerned qualitative changes in the selection or the level of expression of a gene, much of the regulation that occurs within a cell involves the continuous subtle optimization of the levels of proteins used in macromolecular complexes. An example is the biosynthesis of the ribosome, in which equimolar amounts of nearly 80 ribosomal proteins must be supplied by the cytoplasm to the nucleolus. We have found that the transcript of one of the ribosomal protein genes of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, RPL32, participates in such fine tuning. Sequences from exon I of the RPL32 transcript interact with nucleotides from the intron to form a structure that binds L32 to regulate splicing. In the spliced transcript, the same sequences interact with nucleotides from exon II to form a structure that binds L32 to regulate translation, thus providing two levels of autoregulation. We now show, by using a sensitive cocultivation assay, that these RNA structures and their interaction with L32 play a role in the fitness of the cell. The change of a single nucleotide within the 5' leader of the RPL32 transcript, which abolishes the site for L32 binding, leads to detectably slower growth and to eventual loss of the mutant strain from the culture. Experiments designed to assess independently the regulation of splicing and the regulation of translation are presented. These observations demonstrate that, in evolutionary terms, subtle regulatory compensations can be critical. The change in structure of an RNA, due to alteration of just one noncoding nucleotide, can spell the difference between biological success and failure.

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