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Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 Apr;40(8):3653-62. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkr1226. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

Nematode-specific tRNAs that decode an alternative genetic code for leucine.

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Institute for Advanced Biosciences, Keio University, Tsuruoka 997-0017, Japan.


Class II transfer RNAs (tRNAs), including tRNA(Leu) and tRNA(Ser), have an additional stem and loop structure, the long variable arm (V-arm). Here, we describe Class II tRNAs with a unique anticodon corresponding to neither leucine nor serine. Because these tRNAs are specifically conserved among the nematodes, we have called them 'nematode-specific V-arm-containing tRNAs' (nev-tRNAs). The expression of nev-tRNA genes in Caenorhabditis elegans was confirmed experimentally. A comparative sequence analysis suggested that the nev-tRNAs derived phylogenetically from tRNA(Leu). In vitro aminoacylation assays showed that nev-tRNA(Gly) and nev-tRNA(Ile) are only charged with leucine, which is inconsistent with their anticodons. Furthermore, the deletion and mutation of crucial determinants for leucylation in nev-tRNA led to a marked loss of activity. An in vitro translation analysis showed that nev-tRNA(Gly) decodes GGG as leucine instead of the universal glycine code, indicating that nev-tRNAs can be incorporated into ribosomes and participate in protein biosynthesis. Our findings provide the first example of unexpected tRNAs that do not consistently obey the general translation rules for higher eukaryotes.

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