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Research Article
1 December 1992

Role of methionine and formylation of initiator tRNA in initiation of protein synthesis in Escherichia coli


We showed recently that a mutant of Escherichia coli initiator tRNA with a CAU-->CUA anticodon sequence change can initiate protein synthesis from UAG by using formylglutamine instead of formylmethionine. We further showed that coupling of the anticodon sequence change to mutations in the acceptor stem that reduced Vmax/Km(app) in formylation of the tRNAs in vitro significantly reduced their activity in initiation in vivo. In this work, we have screened an E. coli genomic DNA library in a multicopy vector carrying one of the mutant tRNA genes and have found that the gene for E. coli methionyl-tRNA synthetase (MetRS) rescues, partially, the initiation defect of the mutant tRNA. For other mutant tRNAs, we have examined the effect of overproduction of MetRS on their activities in initiation and their aminoacylation and formylation in vivo. Some but not all of the tRNA mutants can be rescued. Those that cannot be rescued are extremely poor substrates for MetRS or the formylating enzyme. Overproduction of MetRS also significantly increases the initiation activity of a tRNA mutant which can otherwise be aminoacylated with glutamine and fully formylated in vivo. We interpret these results as follows. (i) Mutant initiator tRNAs that are poor substrates for MetRS are aminoacylated in part with methionine when MetRS is overproduced. (ii) Mutant tRNAs aminoacylated with methionine are better substrates for the formylating enzyme in vivo than mutant tRNAs aminoacylated with glutamine. (iii) Mutant tRNAs carrying formylmethionine are significantly more active in initiation than those carrying formylglutamine. Consequently, a subset of mutant tRNAs which are defective in formylation and therefore inactive in initiation when they are aminoacylated with glutamine become partially active when MetRS is overproduced.

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Published In

cover image Journal of Bacteriology
Journal of Bacteriology
Volume 174Number 23December 1992
Pages: 7819 - 7826
PubMed: 1447148


Published online: 1 December 1992


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U Varshney
Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.
U L RajBhandary
Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.

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