Ribosomes translate the genetic information encoded by mRNA into proteins. Defective mRNAs can cause stalling of translating ribosomes. The molecule tmRNA (transfer-messenger RNA) rescues stalled ribosomes in eubacteria. Together with its protein partner SmpB, tmRNA mimics a tRNA by entering the ribosomal A site and linking an alanine residue to the growing polypeptide chain. The ribosome then abandons the defective mRNA template and resumes translation on tmRNA, adding ten more amino acids to the nascent polypeptide. As a result of tmRNA action, stalled ribosomes are released and recycled, the defective mRNA is destroyed, and the aborted protein product is tagged for destruction by proteases. It is unknown how the ribosome correctly chooses the position on tmRNA to resume translation. Previous studies implicate the sequence UAGUC found immediately upstream of the first codon in the tmRNA open reading frame. These nucleotides are highly conserved in natural tmRNA sequences. Mutations in this area cause loss of tmRNA function and improper frame choice. Using a genetic selection that ties the life of E. coli cells to the function of tmRNA, we have identified several SmpB mutants that rescue an inactive tmRNA in which this upstream sequence was altered. This links SmpB to the function of these key tmRNA nucleotides. We show that our SmpB mutants affect frame choice using an in vivo assay for tagging in the various frames. We conclude that SmpB plays a role in setting the reading frame on tmRNA.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Chemistry and Biochemistry



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tmRNA, SmpB, trans-translation, frame