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Nucleic Acids Res. 2009 Nov;37(21):7014-23. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp792.

Universal function-specificity of codon usage.

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Institute of Parasitology, McGill University, 21111 Lakeshore Road, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Montreal, Quebec, H9X3V9, Canada.


Synonymous codon usage has long been known as a factor that affects average expression level of proteins in fast-growing microorganisms, but neither its role in dynamic changes of expression in response to environmental changes nor selective factors shaping it in the genomes of higher eukaryotes have been fully understood. Here, we propose that codon usage is ubiquitously selected to synchronize the translation efficiency with the dynamic alteration of protein expression in response to environmental and physiological changes. Our analysis reveals that codon usage is universally correlated with gene function, suggesting its potential contribution to synchronized regulation of genes with similar functions. We directly show that coexpressed genes have similar synonymous codon usages within the genomes of human, yeast, Caenorhabditis elegans and Escherichia coli. We also demonstrate that perturbing the codon usage directly affects the level or even direction of changes in protein expression in response to environmental stimuli. Perturbing tRNA composition also has tangible phenotypic effects on the cell. By showing that codon usage is universally function-specific, our results expand, to almost all organisms, the notion that cells may need to dynamically alter their intracellular tRNA composition in order to adapt to their new environment or physiological role.

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