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Nucleic Acids Res. 1990 Mar 25;18(6):1465-73.

Suppression of the negative effect of minor arginine codons on gene expression; preferential usage of minor codons within the first 25 codons of the Escherichia coli genes.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-UMDNJ, Rutgers, Piscataway 08854.


AGA and AGG codons for arginine are the least used codons in Escherichia coli, which are encoded by a rare tRNA, the product of the dnaY gene. We examined the positions of arginine residues encoded by AGA/AGG codons in 678 E. coli proteins. It was found that AGA/AGG codons appear much more frequently within the first 25 codons. This tendency becomes more significant in those proteins containing only one AGA or AGG codon. Other minor codons such as CUA, UCA, AGU, ACA, GGA, CCC and AUA are also found to be preferentially used within the first 25 codons. The effects of the AGG codon on gene expression were examined by inserting one to five AGG codons after the 10th codon from the initiation codon of the lacZ gene. The production of beta-galactosidase decreased as more AGG codons were inserted. With five AGG codons, the production of beta-galactosidase (Gal-AGG5) completely ceased after a mid-log phase of cell growth. After 22 hr induction of the lacZ gene, the overall production of Gal-AGG5 was 11% of the control production (no insertion of arginine codons). When five CGU codons, the major arginine codon were inserted instead of AGG, the production of beta-galactosidase (Gal-CGU5) continued even after stationary phase and the overall production was 66% of the control. The negative effect of the AGG codons on the Gal-AGG5 production was found to be dependent upon the distance between the site of the AGG codons and the initiation codon. As the distance was increased by inserting extra sequences between the two codons, the production of Gal-AGG5 increased almost linearly up to 8 fold. From these results, we propose that the position of the minor codons in an mRNA plays an important role in the regulation of gene expression possibly by modulating the stability of the initiation complex for protein synthesis.

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