Mutational analysis of an inherently defective translation initiation site.
In a reverse of many studies of translational initiation sites, we have explored the basis for the inactivity of an apparently defective initiation site. Gene VII of the filamentous phage f1 has a translational start site with highly unusual functional properties and a sequence dissimilar to a prokaryotic ribosome binding site. The VII site shows no activity in assays of independent initiation, even in a deletion series designed to remove potentially interfering RNA secondary structure. Activity from the VII site is only observed if the site is coupled to a source of translation immediately upstream, but its efficiency is low at a one-nucleotide spacing from the stop codon of the upstream cistron and extremely sensitive to the distance between the stop codon and the gene VII AUG. These and other atypical characteristics of coupling distinguish the VII site from most coupled initiation sites. To identify the pattern of nucleotide substitutions that give the VII site the capacity for independent initiation, a series of designed and random point mutations were introduced in the sequence. Improving the Shine-Dalgarno complementarity from GG to GGAG or GGAGG made activity detectable, but at only low levels. Random substitutions, each increasing activity above background by a small increment, were found at 16 positions throughout the region of ribosome contact. These substitutions lengthened the Shine-Dalgarno complementarity or changed the G and C residues present in the wild-type site to A or T. Significant activity was not observed unless a strong Shine-Dalgarno sequence and a number of the up-mutations were present together. The nature and distribution of the substitutions and their agreement with the known preferences for nucleotides in initiation sites provide evidence that the VII site's major defect is its primary sequence overall. It appears to lack the specialized sequence required to bind free 30 S ribosomes, and thus depends on the translational coupling process to give it limited activity.
Ivey-Hoyle, M; Steege, DA
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