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Methods. 1997 Apr;11(4):361-70.

DNA transfection to study translational control in mammalian cells.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biological Chemistry, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor 48105, USA.


Mammalian cells respond to changes in their environment by rapid and reversible covalent modification of the translational machinery. In most cases, these modifications involve the phosphorylation and dephosphorylation of translation initiation factors (for review see Ref. 1). The modification of translation initiation factors may affect translational activity of either specific mRNAs or general cellular mRNAs. To study the effect of a particular factor or its modification on the translational capacity of an mRNA, there are a number of potential approaches that include in vitro translation reactions as well as in vivo experiments. Generally, experiments initially report a covalent modification that correlates with altered translational capacity of either a specific or a general class of mRNAs. The modification and the particular amino acid residue involved are then identified. Then mutations are made at the modified residue to prevent modification (for example, a serine-to-alanine mutation to prevent phosphorylation) and the effect of the mutant factor on the translation of a target mRNA is tested. The most convenient method for monitoring the effect of a mutant translation factor on translation is the use of transient DNA transfection. However, in certain situations it is desirable to isolate stably transfected cell lines to study the effect of overexpression, underexpression, or expression of a particular mutant translation factor. This article reviews two methods that are routinely used to study translational control that involve either transient or stable DNA transfection.

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