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RNA. 2008 Oct;14(10):2170-82. doi: 10.1261/rna.1171808. Epub 2008 Aug 28.

Activation of cap-independent translation by variant eukaryotic initiation factor 4G in vivo.

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  • 1Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Protein synthesis is tightly controlled by assembly of an intricate ribonucleoprotein complex at the m(7)GTP-cap on eukaryotic mRNAs. Ensuing linear scanning of the 5' untranslated region (UTR) is believed to transfer the preinitiation complex to the initiation codon. Eukaryotic mRNAs are characterized by significant 5' UTR heterogeneity, raising the possibility of differential control of translation initiation rate at individual mRNAs. Curiously, many mRNAs with unconventional, highly structured 5' UTRs encode proteins with central biological roles in growth control, metabolism, or stress response. The 5' UTRs of such mRNAs may influence protein synthesis rate in multiple ways, but most significantly they have been implicated in mediating alternative means of translation initiation. Cap-independent initiation bypasses strict control over the formation of initiation intermediates at the m(7)GTP cap. However, the molecular mechanisms that favor alternative means of ribosome recruitment are not understood. Here we provide evidence that eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4G controls cap-independent translation initiation at the c-myc and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) 5' UTRs in vivo. Cap-independent translation was investigated in tetracycline-inducible cell lines expressing either full-length eIF4G or a C-terminal fragment (Ct) lacking interaction with eIF4E and poly(A) binding protein. Expression of Ct, but not intact eIF4G, potently stimulated cap-independent initiation at the c-myc/VEGF 5' UTRs. In vitro RNA-binding assays suggest that stimulation of cap-independent translation initiation by Ct is due to direct association with the c-myc/VEGF 5' UTR, enabling 43S preinitiation complex recruitment. Our work demonstrates that variant translation initiation factors enable unconventional translation initiation at mRNA subsets with distinct structural features.

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