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Concept: Protein biosynthesis


Purely in vitro ribosome synthesis could provide a critical step towards unraveling the systems biology of ribosome biogenesis, constructing minimal cells from defined components, and engineering ribosomes with new functions. Here, as an initial step towards this goal, we report a method for constructing Escherichia coli ribosomes in crude S150 E. coli extracts. While conventional methods for E. coli ribosome reconstitution are non-physiological, our approach attempts to mimic chemical conditions in the cytoplasm, thus permitting several biological processes to occur simultaneously. Specifically, our integrated synthesis, assembly, and translation (iSAT) technology enables one-step co-activation of rRNA transcription, assembly of transcribed rRNA with native ribosomal proteins into functional ribosomes, and synthesis of active protein by these ribosomes in the same compartment. We show that iSAT makes possible the in vitro construction of modified ribosomes by introducing a 23S rRNA mutation that mediates resistance against clindamycin. We anticipate that iSAT will aid studies of ribosome assembly and open new avenues for making ribosomes with altered properties.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, RNA, Ribosomal RNA, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Translation


The first broad-spectrum antibiotic chloramphenicol and one of the newest clinically important antibacterials, linezolid, inhibit protein synthesis by targeting the peptidyl transferase center of the bacterial ribosome. Because antibiotic binding should prevent the placement of aminoacyl-tRNA in the catalytic site, it is commonly assumed that these drugs are universal inhibitors of peptidyl transfer and should readily block the formation of every peptide bond. However, our in vitro experiments showed that chloramphenicol and linezolid stall ribosomes at specific mRNA locations. Treatment of bacterial cells with high concentrations of these antibiotics leads to preferential arrest of translation at defined sites, resulting in redistribution of the ribosomes on mRNA. Antibiotic-mediated inhibition of protein synthesis is most efficient when the nascent peptide in the ribosome carries an alanine residue and, to a lesser extent, serine or threonine in its penultimate position. In contrast, the inhibitory action of the drugs is counteracted by glycine when it is either at the nascent-chain C terminus or at the incoming aminoacyl-tRNA. The context-specific action of chloramphenicol illuminates the operation of the mechanism of inducible resistance that relies on programmed drug-induced translation arrest. In addition, our findings expose the functional interplay between the nascent chain and the peptidyl transferase center.

Concepts: Protein, Bacteria, Amino acid, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Chloramphenicol, Peptidyl transferase


Deep sequencing now provides detailed snapshots of ribosome occupancy on mRNAs. We leverage these data to parameterize a computational model of translation, keeping track of every ribosome, tRNA, and mRNA molecule in a yeast cell. We determine the parameter regimes in which fast initiation or high codon bias in a transgene increases protein yield and infer the initiation rates of endogenous Saccharomyces cerevisiae genes, which vary by several orders of magnitude and correlate with 5' mRNA folding energies. Our model recapitulates the previously reported 5'-to-3' ramp of decreasing ribosome densities, although our analysis shows that this ramp is caused by rapid initiation of short genes rather than slow codons at the start of transcripts. We conclude that protein production in healthy yeast cells is typically limited by the availability of free ribosomes, whereas protein production under periods of stress can sometimes be rescued by reducing initiation or elongation rates.

Concepts: Protein, Cell nucleus, RNA, Ribosome, Yeast, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Genetic code


Although antipsychotic drugs can reduce psychotic behavior within a few hours, full efficacy is not achieved for several weeks, implying that there may be rapid, short-term changes in neuronal function, which are consolidated into long-lasting changes. We showed that the antipsychotic drug haloperidol, a dopamine receptor type 2 (D2R) antagonist, stimulated the kinase Akt to activate the mRNA translation pathway mediated by the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1). In primary striatal D2R-positive neurons, haloperidol-mediated activation of mTORC1 resulted in increased phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 (S6) and eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E-binding protein (4E-BP). Proteomic mass spectrometry revealed marked changes in the pattern of protein synthesis after acute exposure of cultured striatal neurons to haloperidol, including increased abundance of cytoskeletal proteins and proteins associated with translation machinery. These proteomic changes coincided with increased morphological complexity of neurons that was diminished by inhibition of downstream effectors of mTORC1, suggesting that mTORC1-dependent translation enhances neuronal complexity in response to haloperidol. In vivo, we observed rapid morphological changes with a concomitant increase in the abundance of cytoskeletal proteins in cortical neurons of haloperidol-injected mice. These results suggest a mechanism for both the acute and long-term actions of antipsychotics.

Concepts: Protein, Ribosome, Protein biosynthesis, Dopamine receptor, Antipsychotic, Schizophrenia, Dopamine, Haloperidol


Control of protein homeostasis is fundamental to the health and longevity of all organisms. Because the rate of protein synthesis by ribosomes is a central control point in this process, regulation and maintenance of ribosome function could have amplified importance in the overall regulatory circuit. Indeed, ribosomal defects are commonly associated with loss of protein homeostasis, aging and disease, whereas improved protein homeostasis, implying optimal ribosomal function, is associated with disease resistance and increased lifespan. To maintain a high quality ribosome population within the cell, dysfunctional ribosomes are targeted for autophagic degradation. It is not known if complete degradation is the only mechanism for eukaryotic ribosome maintenance or if they might also be repaired by replacement of defective components. We used stable-isotope feeding and protein mass-spectrometry to measure the kinetics of turnover of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and 71 ribosomal proteins (r-proteins) in mice. The results indicate that exchange of individual proteins and whole ribosome degradation both contribute to ribosome maintenance in vivo. In general, peripheral r-proteins and those with more direct roles in peptide-bond formation are replaced multiple times during the lifespan of the assembled structure, presumably by exchange with a free cytoplasmic pool, whereas the majority of r-proteins are stably incorporated for the lifetime of the ribosome. Dietary signals impact the rates of both new ribosome assembly and component exchange. Signal-specific modulation of ribosomal repair and degradation could provide a mechanistic link in the frequently observed associations among diminished rates of protein synthesis, increased autophagy, and greater longevity.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell nucleus, RNA, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis


We are just beginning to understand how translational control affects tumour initiation and malignancy. Here we use an epidermis-specific, in vivo ribosome profiling strategy to investigate the translational landscape during the transition from normal homeostasis to malignancy. Using a mouse model of inducible SOX2, which is broadly expressed in oncogenic RAS-associated cancers, we show that despite widespread reductions in translation and protein synthesis, certain oncogenic mRNAs are spared. During tumour initiation, the translational apparatus is redirected towards unconventional upstream initiation sites, enhancing the translational efficiency of oncogenic mRNAs. An in vivo RNA interference screen of translational regulators revealed that depletion of conventional eIF2 complexes has adverse effects on normal but not oncogenic growth. Conversely, the alternative initiation factor eIF2A is essential for cancer progression, during which it mediates initiation at these upstream sites, differentially skewing translation and protein expression. Our findings unveil a role for the translation of 5' untranslated regions in cancer, and expose new targets for therapeutic intervention.

Concepts: Gene expression, Cancer, Transcription, Molecular biology, RNA, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis


Proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) plays a key role in regulating the levels of plasma low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). Here, we demonstrate that the compound PF-06446846 inhibits translation of PCSK9 by inducing the ribosome to stall around codon 34, mediated by the sequence of the nascent chain within the exit tunnel. We further show that PF-06446846 reduces plasma PCSK9 and total cholesterol levels in rats following oral dosing. Using ribosome profiling, we demonstrate that PF-06446846 is highly selective for the inhibition of PCSK9 translation. The mechanism of action employed by PF-06446846 reveals a previously unexpected tunability of the human ribosome that allows small molecules to specifically block translation of individual transcripts.

Concepts: Cholesterol, Protein, Atherosclerosis, Low-density lipoprotein, Atheroma, Lipoprotein, Protein biosynthesis, Enzyme inhibitor


Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant and evolutionarily conserved RNAs of largely unknown function. Here, we show that a subset of circRNAs is translated in vivo. By performing ribosome footprinting from fly heads, we demonstrate that a group of circRNAs is associated with translating ribosomes. Many of these ribo-circRNAs use the start codon of the hosting mRNA, are bound by membrane-associated ribosomes, and have evolutionarily conserved termination codons. In addition, we found that a circRNA generated from the muscleblind locus encodes a protein, which we detected in fly head extracts by mass spectrometry. Next, by performing in vivo and in vitro translation assays, we show that UTRs of ribo-circRNAs (cUTRs) allow cap-independent translation. Moreover, we found that starvation and FOXO likely regulate the translation of a circMbl isoform. Altogether, our study provides strong evidence for translation of circRNAs, revealing the existence of an unexplored layer of gene activity.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, RNA, Ribosome, Protein biosynthesis, Genetic code, Transfer RNA


Pseudomonas exotoxin (PE) potently blocks protein synthesis by catalyzing the inactivation of elongation factor-2 (EF-2), and PE-cytotoxins have been used as anti-tumor agents. However, their effective clinical translation in solid tumors has been confounded by off-target delivery, systemic toxicity and short chemotherapeutic half-life. To overcome these limitations we have created toxin-resistant stem cells by modifying endogenous EF-2, and engineered them to secrete PE-cytotoxins targeting IL13Rα2 and EGFR expressed by many glioblastomas (GBM). Molecular analysis correlated efficacy of PE-targeted cytotoxins with levels of cognate receptor expression, and optical imaging was applied to simultaneously track the kinetics of protein synthesis inhibition and GBM cell viability in vivo. Stem cell-based delivery of IL13-PE in a clinically-relevant GBM resection model led to increased long-term survival of mice compared to IL13-PE protein infusion. Moreover, multiple patient-derived GBM lines responded to treatment, underscoring its clinical relevance. In sum, integrating stem cell-based engineering, multimodal imaging and delivery of PE-cytotoxins in a clinically-relevant GBM model represents a novel strategy and a potential advancement in GBM therapy. Stem Cells 2014.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene expression, Cell, Cancer, Oncology, Cell biology, Protein biosynthesis


Ribosomes are highly conserved molecular machines whose core composition has traditionally been regarded as invariant. However, recent studies have reported intriguing differences in the expression of some ribosomal proteins (RPs) across tissues and highly specific effects on the translation of individual mRNAs.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, Cell nucleus, Amino acid, Ribosome, Cytoplasm, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis