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Mol Cell Biol. 2006 Jan;26(2):438-47.

Distinct paths to stop codon reassignment by the variant-code organisms Tetrahymena and Euplotes.

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Department of Microbiology, BBRB 432/Box 8, 1530 Third Avenue South, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-2170, USA.


The reassignment of stop codons is common among many ciliate species. For example, Tetrahymena species recognize only UGA as a stop codon, while Euplotes species recognize only UAA and UAG as stop codons. Recent studies have shown that domain 1 of the translation termination factor eRF1 mediates stop codon recognition. While it is commonly assumed that changes in domain 1 of ciliate eRF1s are responsible for altered stop codon recognition, this has never been demonstrated in vivo. To carry out such an analysis, we made hybrid proteins that contained eRF1 domain 1 from either Tetrahymena thermophila or Euplotes octocarinatus fused to eRF1 domains 2 and 3 from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We found that the Tetrahymena hybrid eRF1 efficiently terminated at all three stop codons when expressed in yeast cells, indicating that domain 1 is not the sole determinant of stop codon recognition in Tetrahymena species. In contrast, the Euplotes hybrid facilitated efficient translation termination at UAA and UAG codons but not at the UGA codon. Together, these results indicate that while domain 1 facilitates stop codon recognition, other factors can influence this process. Our findings also indicate that these two ciliate species used distinct approaches to diverge from the universal genetic code.

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