Author(s): Kozak M
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Abstract Recognition of an AUG initiator codon in a suboptimal context improves when a modest amount of secondary structure is introduced near the beginning of the protein-coding sequence. This facilitating effect depends on the position of the downstream stem-loop (hairpin) structure. The strongest facilitation is seen when the hairpin is separated from the preceding AUG codon by 14 nucleotides. Because 14 nucleotides corresponds to the approximate distance between the leading edge of the ribosome and its AUG-recognition center as measured by ribonuclease protection experiments, a likely explanation for the enhancing effect of a downstream hairpin is that secondary structure slows scanning, thereby providing more time for recognition of the AUG codon, and the facilitation is greatest when the 40S ribosome stalls with its AUG-recognition center directly over the AUG. The variable ability of mammalian ribosomes to initiate at non-AUG codons in vitro is also explicable by the presence or absence of a stem-loop structure just downstream from the alternative initiator codon. This may be relevant to recent reports of adventitious upstream initiation events at non-AUG codons in some vertebrate mRNAs that have structure-prone, G + C-rich leader sequences.
This article was published in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
and referenced in Journal of Vaccines & Vaccination