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PLoS Genet. 2012;8(3):e1002608. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002608. Epub 2012 Mar 29.

Statistical analysis of readthrough levels for nonsense mutations in mammalian cells reveals a major determinant of response to gentamicin.

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Université Paris-Sud, Institut de Génétique et Microbiologie, UMR8621, Orsay, France.


The efficiency of translation termination depends on the nature of the stop codon and the surrounding nucleotides. Some molecules, such as aminoglycoside antibiotics (gentamicin), decrease termination efficiency and are currently being evaluated for diseases caused by premature termination codons. However, the readthrough response to treatment is highly variable and little is known about the rules governing readthrough level and response to aminoglycosides. In this study, we carried out in-depth statistical analysis on a very large set of nonsense mutations to decipher the elements of nucleotide context responsible for modulating readthrough levels and gentamicin response. We quantified readthrough for 66 sequences containing a stop codon, in the presence and absence of gentamicin, in cultured mammalian cells. We demonstrated that the efficiency of readthrough after treatment is determined by the complex interplay between the stop codon and a larger sequence context. There was a strong positive correlation between basal and induced readthrough levels, and a weak negative correlation between basal readthrough level and gentamicin response (i.e. the factor of increase from basal to induced readthrough levels). The identity of the stop codon did not affect the response to gentamicin treatment. In agreement with a previous report, we confirm that the presence of a cytosine in +4 position promotes higher basal and gentamicin-induced readthrough than other nucleotides. We highlight for the first time that the presence of a uracil residue immediately upstream from the stop codon is a major determinant of the response to gentamicin. Moreover, this effect was mediated by the nucleotide itself, rather than by the amino-acid or tRNA corresponding to the -1 codon. Finally, we point out that a uracil at this position associated with a cytosine at +4 results in an optimal gentamicin-induced readthrough, which is the therapeutically relevant variable.

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