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J Mol Biol. 1996 Oct 4;262(4):413-20.

Domain structure of the prokaryotic selenocysteine-specific elongation factor SelB.

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Lehrstuhl für Mikrobiologie, Universität München, Germany.


Incorporation of the non-canonical amino acid selenocysteine into proteins requires the activity of the elongation factor SelB which substitutes for the function of EF-Tu in contrast to EF-Tu, SelB binds selenocystylated tRNASec and an mRNA secondary structure adjacent to the UGA selenocysteine codon. To gain information on the domain structure of this specialized translation factor, the selB genes from two bacteria unrelated to Escherichia coli (Clostridium thermoaceticum and Desulfomicrobium baculatum) were cloned and sequenced. The derived amino acid residue sequences were compared to those of SelB from E. coli and Haemophilus influenzae and to EF-Tu sequences. The alignment revealed that SelB contains all three domains characterized for EF-Tu. A fourth, C-terminally located domain shows only limited sequence conservation within the four SelB proteins. To elucidate the function of this C-terminal part a structure-function analysis of SelB from E. coli was performed. It showed that a C-terminal 17 kDa subdomain of the translation factor, when expressed separately, specifically binds the mRNA secondary structure. The recognition motif itself could be reduced to a 17 nucleotide minihelix without loss of binding affinity and specificity. A truncated SelB lacking the mRNA binding domain was still able to interact with selenocysteyl-tRNASec. Expression of the mRNA binding domain alone suppressed selenocysteine insertion in vivo by competing with SelB for its binding site at the mRNA. The results indicate that SelB can be considered as an EF-Tu homolog hooked to the mRNA via its C-terminal domain.

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