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EMBO J. 1985 Feb;4(2):519-26.

Translational initiation frequency of atp genes from Escherichia coli: identification of an intercistronic sequence that enhances translation.


The c, b and delta subunit genes of the Escherichia coli atp operon were cloned individually in an expression vector between the tac fusion promoter and the galK gene. The relative rates of subunit synthesis directed by the cloned genes were similar in vitro and in vivo and compared favourably with the subunit stoichiometry of the assembled proton-translocating ATP synthase of E. coli in vivo. The rate of synthesis of subunit c was at least six times that of subunit b and 18 times that of subunit delta. Progressive shortening of the long intercistronic sequence lying upstream of the subunit c gene showed that maximal expression of this gene is dependent upon the presence of a sequence stretching greater than 20 bp upstream of the Shine-Dalgarno site. This sequence thus acts to enhance the rate of translational initiation. The possibility that similar sequences might perform the same function in other operons of E. coli and bacteriophage lambda is also discussed. Translation of the subunit b cistron is partially coupled to translation of the preceding subunit c cistron. In conclusion, the expression of all the atp operon genes could be adjusted to accommodate the subunit requirements of ATP synthase assembly primarily by means of mechanisms which control the efficiency of translational initiation and re-initiation at the respective cistron start codons.

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