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J Mol Biol. 2003 May 16;328(5):995-1010.

Towards understanding human mitochondrial leucine aminoacylation identity.

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UPR 9002 du CNRS, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, 15 rue René Descartes, F-67084 Strasbourg Cedex, France.


Specific recognition of tRNAs by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases is governed by sets of aminoacylation identity elements, well defined for numerous prokaryotic systems and eukaryotic cytosolic systems. Only restricted information is available for aminoacylation of human mitochondrial tRNAs, despite their particularities linked to the non-classical structures of the tRNAs and their involvement in a growing number of human neurodegenerative disorders linked to mutations in the corresponding tRNA genes. A major difficulty to be overcome is the preparation of active in vitro transcripts enabling a rational mutagenic analysis, as is currently performed for classical tRNAs. Here, structural and aminoacylation properties of in vitro transcribed tRNA(Leu(UUR)) are presented. Solution probing using a combination of enzymatic and chemical tools revealed only partial folding into an L-shaped structure, with an acceptor branch but with a floppy anticodon branch. Optimization of aminoacylation conditions allowed charging of up to 75% of molecules, showing that, despite its partially relaxed structure, in vitro transcribed tRNA(Leu(UUR)) is able to adapt to the synthetase. In addition, mutational analysis demonstrates that the discriminator base as well as residue A14 are important leucine identity elements. Thus, human mitochondrial leucylation is dependent on rules similar to those that apply in Escherichia coli. The impact of a subset of pathology-related mutations on aminoacylation and on tRNA structure, has been explored. These variants do not show significant structural rearrangements and either do not affect aminoacylation (mutations T3250C, T3271C, C3303T) or lead to marked effects. Interestingly, two variants with a mutation at the same position (A3243G and A3243T) lead to markedly different losses in aminoacylation efficiencies (tenfold and 300-fold, respectively).

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