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RNA. 2009 May;15(5):889-97. doi: 10.1261/rna.1508109. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

Connection between stop codon reassignment and frequent use of shifty stop frameshifting.

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  • 1Program in Molecular and Cell Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore,Maryland 21250, USA.


Ciliated protozoa of the genus Euplotes have undergone genetic code reassignment, redefining the termination codon UGA to encode cysteine. In addition, Euplotes spp. genes very frequently employ shifty stop frameshifting. Both of these phenomena involve noncanonical events at a termination codon, suggesting they might have a common cause. We recently demonstrated that Euplotes octocarinatus peptide release factor eRF1 ignores UGA termination codons while continuing to recognize UAA and UAG. Here we show that both the Tetrahymena thermophila and E. octocarinatus eRF1 factors allow efficient frameshifting at all three termination codons, suggesting that UGA redefinition also impaired UAA/UAG recognition. Mutations of the Euplotes factor restoring a phylogenetically conserved motif in eRF1 (TASNIKS) reduced programmed frameshifting at all three termination codons. Mutation of another conserved residue, Cys124, strongly reduces frameshifting at UGA while actually increasing frameshifting at UAA/UAG. We will discuss these results in light of recent biochemical characterization of these mutations.

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