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Nucleic Acids Res. 2013 Apr 1;41(6):e73. doi: 10.1093/nar/gks1473. Epub 2013 Jan 15.

mRNA secondary structure optimization using a correlated stem-loop prediction.

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DETI/IEETA, University of Aveiro, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal.


Secondary structure of messenger RNA plays an important role in the bio-synthesis of proteins. Its negative impact on translation can reduce the yield of protein by slowing or blocking the initiation and movement of ribosomes along the mRNA, becoming a major factor in the regulation of gene expression. Several algorithms can predict the formation of secondary structures by calculating the minimum free energy of RNA sequences, or perform the inverse process of obtaining an RNA sequence for a given structure. However, there is still no approach to redesign an mRNA to achieve minimal secondary structure without affecting the amino acid sequence. Here we present the first strategy to optimize mRNA secondary structures, to increase (or decrease) the minimum free energy of a nucleotide sequence, without changing its resulting polypeptide, in a time-efficient manner, through a simplistic approximation to hairpin formation. Our data show that this approach can efficiently increase the minimum free energy by >40%, strongly reducing the strength of secondary structures. Applications of this technique range from multi-objective optimization of genes by controlling minimum free energy together with CAI and other gene expression variables, to optimization of secondary structures at the genomic level.

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