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Mol Cell. 2003 Oct;12(4):903-11.

Cleavage of the A site mRNA codon during ribosome pausing provides a mechanism for translational quality control.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Cells employ many mechanisms to ensure quality control during protein biosynthesis. Here, we show that, during the pausing of a bacterial ribosome, the mRNA being translated is cleaved at a site within or immediately adjacent to the A site codon. The extent of this A site mRNA cleavage is correlated with the extent of ribosome pausing as assayed by tmRNA-mediated tagging of the nascent polypeptide. Cleavage does not require tmRNA, the ribosomal alarmone (p)ppGpp, or bacterial toxins such as RelE which have been shown to stimulate a similar activity. Translation is required for cleavage, suggesting that the ribosome participates in the reaction in some fashion. When normal protein synthesis is compromised, A site mRNA cleavage and the tmRNA system provide a mechanism for reducing translational errors and the production of aberrant and potentially harmful polypeptides.

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