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Biofactors. 1993 May;4(2):87-93.

The IRE (iron regulatory element) family: structures which regulate mRNA translation or stability.

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Department of Biochemistry, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695-7622.


Iron regulatory elements (IREs) are a family of 28 nucleotide, non-coding elements which regulate the translation of ferritin mRNA (iron storage), erythroid delta-aminolevulinic acid synthase mRNA (heme synthesis) and the stability of the transferrin receptor (TfR) mRNA (iron uptake). IREs in the 5' end control translation (ribosome binding) and IREs in the 3' end control turnover (degradation). The specific regulator protein, the IRE-BP, is a member of the aconitase family but binds RNA only in the apo form without the Fe-S cluster. Cellular iron alters the IRE/IRE-BP interaction leading to translation of ferritin and eALAS mRNAs but degradation of the TfR mRNA. IRE function requires proximity to the 5' cap, achieved either by a short leader (eALAS) or a long, base-pairing flanking region (FL) (ferritin); a conserved triplet of FL base pairs enhances repression of ferritin mRNA. TfR mRNA has five AU-rich IREs which can also form an alternate structure with inter-IRE base pairs, in the absence of the IRE-BP. Ferritin IREs regulate both translation repression (negative control-IRE-BP dependent) and enhancement (positive control-initiation factor dependent); IRE-BP binding induces conformational changes in the FL. IREs use CAGUGU/C to form a hairpin loop with specific variations in the stem such as internal or bulge loops. A current structural model obtained using metallonucleases (1,10-phenanthroline-Cu, Fe-EDTA, Fe-bleomycin) and a preliminary analysis of the NMR spectrum, is a distorted helix with folds. The effect of cellular iron, Fe-S clusters and heme on the IRE-BP/RNA is not completely understood.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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