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Mol Cell Biol. 1989 Nov;9(11):5134-42.

Circumstances and mechanisms of inhibition of translation by secondary structure in eucaryotic mRNAs.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260.


This paper describes in vitro experiments with two types of intramolecular duplex structures that inhibit translation in cis by preventing the formation of an initiation complex or by causing the complex to be abortive. One stem-loop structure (delta G = -30 kcal/mol) prevented mRNA from engaging 40S subunits when the hairpin occurred 12 nucleotides (nt) from the cap but had no deleterious effect when it was repositioned 52 nt from the cap. This result confirms prior in vivo evidence that the 40S subunit-factor complex, once bound to mRNA, has considerable ability to penetrate secondary structure. Consequently, translation is most sensitive to secondary structure at the entry site for ribosomes, i.e., the 5' end of the mRNA. The second stem-loop structure (hp7; delta G = -61 kcal/mol, located 72 nt from the cap) was too stable to be unwound by 40S ribosomes, hp7 did not prevent a 40S ribosomal subunit from binding but caused the 40S subunit to stall on the 5' side of the hairpin, exactly as the scanning model predicts. Control experiments revealed that 80S elongating ribosomes could disrupt duplex structures, such as hp7, that were too stable to be penetrated by the scanning 40S ribosome-factor complex. A third type of base-paired structure shown to inhibit translation in vivo involves a long-range interaction between the 5' and 3' noncoding sequences.

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