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Free Content Translation at higher than an optimal level interferes with coupling at an intercistronic junction

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In pairs of adjacent genes co-transcribed on bacterial polycistronic mRNAs, translation of the first coding region frequently functions as a positive factor to couple translation to the distal coding region. Coupling efficiencies vary over a wide range, but synthesis of both gene products at similar levels is common. We report the results of characterizing an unusual gene pair, in which only about 1% of the translational activity from the upstream gene is transmitted to the distal gene. The inefficient coupling was unexpected because the upstream gene is highly translated, the distal initiation site has weak but intrinsic ability to bind ribosomes, and the AUG is only two nucleotides beyond the stop codon for the upstream gene. The genes are those in the filamentous phage IKe genome, which encode the abundant single-stranded DNA binding protein (gene V) and the minor coat protein that caps one tip of the phage (gene VII). Here, we have used chimeras between the related phage IKe and f1 sequences to localize the region responsible for inefficient coupling. It mapped upstream from the intercistronic region containing the gene V stop codon and the gene VII initiation site, indicating that low coupling efficiency is associated with gene V. The basis for inefficient coupling emerged when coupling efficiency was found to increase as gene V translation was decreased below the high wild-type level. This was achieved by lowering the rate of elongation and by decreasing the efficiency of suppression at an amber codon within the gene. Increasing the strength of the Shine–Dalgarno interaction with 16S rRNA at the gene VII start also increased coupling efficiency substantially. In this gene pair, upstream translation thus functions in an unprecedented way as a negative factor to limit downstream expression. We interpret the results as evidence that translation in excess of an optimal level in an upstream gene interferes with coupling in the intercistronic junction.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-11-01

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