Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Molecular Genetics and Microbiology


Microbiology and Physiological Systems

First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Allan Jacobson


RNA, Messenger, RNA Stability, Protein Biosynthesis


The proper workings of an organism rely on the accurate expression of genes throughout its lifetime. An important determinant for protein production is the availability of template mRNA molecules, the net effect of which is governed by their rates of synthesis vs. their rates of degradation. Normal mRNAs are proposed to be relatively stable in the cytoplasm while present in a protective, circularized conformation – the closed loop – through eIF4G-bridged interactions with 3’-bound poly(A) binding protein (Pab1p) and 5’-bound eIF4E. Introduction of a premature nonsense codon into an otherwise normal mRNA results in its rapid destabilization in cells, suggesting that not all stop codons behave the same, and events at premature termination events that lead to accelerated degradation of nonsense-containing mRNAs likely differ from those at normal termination, in which normal decay rates are maintained. The enhanced degradation observed for nonsense-containing mRNAs occurs through an evolutionarily conserved pathway involving the products of the UPF1, UPF2/NMD2, and UPF3 genes, the precise biochemical roles of which have remained elusive. We have developed a yeast cell-free translation system that allows us to assay biochemical events occurring at premature termination codons, compare them to those occurring at normal terminators, and study the role of Upf1p in these events. We find that premature termination is an inefficient process compared to normal termination and that one outcome of termination at a premature termination codon (PTC) is reinitiation at a nearby start codon. This in vitro post-termination reinitiation phenotype is dependent on the presence of Upf1p, a finding we have recapitulated in vivo. We also developed biochemical assays to define a role for Upf1p in translation following premature termination in vitro and find that Upf1p is involved in post-termination ribosome dissociation and reutilization. Supporting this idea are our findings that Upf1p predominantly cosediments with purified 40S ribosomal subunits. Finally, using our in vitro translation/toeprinting system, we have further characterized events leading to the formation of the mRNA closed loop structure and find that two states of the closed loop exist. The first requires the preinitiation 48S complex and includes Pab1p, eIF4G, eIF4E, and eIF3, whereas the second is formed after 60S joining and additionally requires the translation termination factors eRF1 and eRF3.



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