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PLoS One. 2007 Feb 7;2(2):e188.

The +4G site in Kozak consensus is not related to the efficiency of translation initiation.

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Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.


The optimal context for translation initiation in mammalian species is GCCRCCaugG (where R = purine and "aug" is the initiation codon), with the -3R and +4G being particularly important. The presence of +4G has been interpreted as necessary for efficient translation initiation. Accumulated experimental and bioinformatic evidence has suggested an alternative explanation based on amino acid constraint on the second codon, i.e., amino acid Ala or Gly are needed as the second amino acid in the nascent peptide for the cleavage of the initiator Met, and the consequent overuse of Ala and Gly codons (GCN and GGN) leads to the +4G consensus. I performed a critical test of these alternative hypotheses on +4G based on 34169 human protein-coding genes and published gene expression data. The result shows that the prevalence of +4G is not related to translation initiation. Among the five G-starting codons, only alanine codons (GCN), and glycine codons (GGN) to a much smaller extent, are overrepresented at the second codon, whereas the other three codons are not overrepresented. While highly expressed genes have more +4G than lowly expressed genes, the difference is caused by GCN and GGN codons at the second codon. These results are inconsistent with +4G being needed for efficient translation initiation, but consistent with the proposal of amino acid constraint hypothesis.

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