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Sci China C Life Sci. 2009 Mar;52(3):245-52. doi: 10.1007/s11427-009-0039-y. Epub 2009 Mar 18.

tRNAs as regulators in gene expression.

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  • 1Key Laboratory of Gene Engineering of the Ministry of Education, State Key Laboratory for Biocontrol, Sun Yan-Sen University, Guangzhou, 510275, China.


Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) hold a central place in protein synthesis by interpreting the genetic information stored in DNA into the amino acid sequence of protein, thus functioning as "adaptor" molecules. In recent years, however, various studies have shown that tRNAs have additional functions beyond participating in protein synthesis. When suffering from certain nutritional stresses, tRNAs change the level of aminoacylation to became uncharged, and these uncharged tRNAs act as effector molecules to regulate global gene expression, so that the stressed organism copes with the adverse environmental stresses. In budding yeast and certain mammalian cells, the retrograde movement of mature tRNAs from cytoplasm to nucleus serves as a mechanism for the surveillance system within the nucleus to continue monitoring the integrity of tRNAs. On the other hand, this retrograde action effectively reduces the global protein synthesis level under conditions of nutritional starvation. Quite recently, various publications have shown that tRNAs are not stable molecules in an absolute sense. Under certain physiological or environmental stresses, they are specifically cleaved into fragments of different lengths in the anticodon loop or anticodon left arm. These cleavages are not a meaningless random degradation phenomenon. Instead, a novel class of signal molecules such as tRNA halves or sitRNAs may be produced, which are closely correlated with the modulation of global gene expression. Investigation of the regulatory functions of tRNAs is a frontier, which seeks to reveal the structural and functional diversity of tRNAs as well as their vital functions during the expression of genetic information.

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