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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2007 Mar 30;355(1):143-8. Epub 2007 Jan 31.

Experimental confirmation of a key role for non-optimal codons in protein export.

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School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.


Non-optimal codons are defined by low usage and low abundance of corresponding tRNA, and have an established role in translational pausing to allow the correct folding of proteins. Our previous work reported a striking abundance of non-optimal codons in the signal sequences of secretory proteins exported via the sec-dependent pathway in Escherichia coli. In the current study the signal sequence of maltose-binding protein (MBP) was altered so that non-optimal codons were substituted with the most optimal codon from their synonymous codon family. The expression of MBP from the optimized allele (malE-opt) was significantly less than wild-type malE. Expression of MBP from malE-opt was partially restored in a range of cytoplasmic and periplasmic protease deficient strains, confirming that reduced expression of MBP in malE-opt was due to its preferential degradation by cytoplasmic and periplasmic proteases. These data confirm a novel role for non-optimal codon usage in secretion by slowing the rate of translation across the N-terminal signal sequence to facilitate proper folding of the secreted protein.

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