Send to

Choose Destination
DNA Cell Biol. 2004 Oct;23(10):701-5.

The ambush hypothesis: hidden stop codons prevent off-frame gene reading.

Author information

Department of Biological Sciences, Biological Computation and Visualization Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA.


Coding sequences lack stop codons, but many stops appear off-frame. Off-frame stops (stops in -1 and +1 shifted reading frames, termed hidden stops) terminate frame-shifted translation, potentially decreasing energy, and resource waste on nonfunctional proteins. Benefits may include reduced waste elimination costs and avoidance of potentially cytotoxic frame-shifted products. Our "ambush" hypothesis suggests that hidden stops are sometimes selected for. Codons of many amino acids can contribute to hidden stops, depending on the synonymous position state and adjacent codons. In vertebrate mitochondria, 31.75% of all amino acid combinations can form hidden stops. Codons with more potential to form hidden stops have greater usage frequency and bias in their favor among synonymous codons. Among primates, predicted mitochondrial rRNA secondary structure stability correlates negatively with the number of hidden stops in the mitochondrial genome. The taxonomic distribution of genetic codes suggests that +1 frameshifts might be more frequent than -1 frameshifts. This is confirmed by analyses of primate mitochondrial genomes: species with unstable rRNAs have more +1 stops, but the correlation is weak for -1 stops. High hidden stop density seems to be an adaptation in species with slippage prone ribosomes (unstable rRNAs). Hidden stops may thus compensate for reduced efficiency of some parts of the biosynthetic machinery. Some experimental data confirm our hypothesis: gene expression increases with the experimentally manipulated number of stops in the promoter region of a gene, suggesting biotechnological applications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center