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EMBO J. 1994 Aug 1;13(15):3608-17.

Positions +5 and +6 can be major determinants of the efficiency of non-AUG initiation codons for protein synthesis.

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Department of Genetics and Microbiology, University of Geneva School of Medicine, Switzerland.


Only rarely do GUG (or CUG or ACG) codons which precede the 5'-proximal AUG function as initiators of protein synthesis, even when they are within a context that contains a purine at position -3 and a G at +4. For example, the upstream GUG of the human parainfluenza virus type 1 (hPIV1) P gene is initiated by ribosomes at high frequency, whereas a seemingly similar GUG codon in the hPIV3 P gene is not used at all. We have examined the reasons for this by expressing chimeric hPIV3/hPIV1 mRNAs, both in vivo and in vitro. A major determinant for efficient GUG utilization was located downstream of the GUG, but this did not appear to be involved in the formation of secondary structure. Rather, the sequence immediately downstream was found to be critical; this determinant was mapped to positions +5 and +6. GUG could be used efficiently for ribosomal initiation when the second codon was GAU but not when it was GUA. Similar results were found when other non-AUG start sites, the Sendai virus P gene ACG and the c-myc-1 CUG, were examined. These results suggest that positions +5 and +6 are important determinants for initiation at non-AUG start sites, and that they are recognized independently of the overall secondary structure of the mRNA.

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