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J Mol Biol. 2010 Feb 26;396(3):821-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2009.12.018. Epub 2009 Dec 21.

Functional analysis of human tRNA isodecoders.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


tRNA isodecoders share the same anticodon but have differences in their body sequence. An unexpected result from genome sequencing projects is the identification of a large number of tRNA isodecoder genes in mammalian genomes. In the reference human genome, more than 270 isodecoder genes are present among the approximately 450 tRNA genes distributed among 49 isoacceptor families. Whether sequence diversity among isodecoder tRNA genes reflects functional variability is an open question. To address this, we developed a method to quantify the efficiency of tRNA isodecoders in stop-codon suppression in human cell lines. First, a green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene that contains a single UAG stop codon at two distinct locations is introduced. GFP is only produced when a tRNA suppressor containing CUA anticodon is co-transfected with the GFP gene. The suppression efficiency is examined for 31 tRNA isodecoders (all contain CUA anticodon), 21 derived from four isoacceptor families of tRNASer genes, 7 from five families of tRNALeu genes, and 3 from three families of tRNAAla genes. We found that isodecoder tRNAs display a large difference in their suppression efficiency. Among those with above background suppression activity, differences of up to 20-fold were observed. We were able to tune tRNA suppression efficiency by subtly adjusting the tRNA sequence and inter-convert poor suppressors into potent ones. We also demonstrate that isodecoder tRNAs with varying suppression efficiencies have similar stability and exhibit similar levels of aminoacylation in vivo. Our results indicate that naturally occurring tRNA isodecoders can have large functional variations and suggest that some tRNA isodecoders may perform a function distinct from translation.

Copyright (c) 2009. Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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