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Alexey Arkov

Advisor: Emanuel Murgola, Ph.D.

The ribosome is a molecular machine that produces proteins in a cell. It consists of RNAs (rRNAs) and proteins. The rRNAs have been implicated in various aspects of protein biosynthesis supporting the idea that they function directly in translation. In this study the direct involvement of rRNA in translation termination was hypothesized and both genetic and biochemical strategies were designed to test this hypothesis. As a result, several regions of rRNAs from both ribosomal subunits were implicated in termination. More specifically, the mutation G1093A in an RNA of the large subunit (23S rRNA) and the mutation C1054A in the small subunit RNA (16S rRNA) of the Escherichia coli ribosome, were shown to affect the binding of the proteins that drive termination, RF1 and RF2. These mutations also caused defects in catalysis of peptidyl-tRNA hydrolysis, the last step of termination. Furthermore, the mutations affected the function of RF2 to a greater extent than that of RF1, a striking result considering the similarity of the RFs. The major defect in RF2 function was consistent with in vivo characteristics of the mutants and can be explained by the inability of the mutant rRNA sites to activate the hydrolytic center, that is the catalytic site for peptidyl-tRNA hydrolysis. Consistent with this explanation is the possibility of a direct interaction between the G1093-region (domain II of 23S rRNA) and the hydrolytic center (most likely domains IV-VI of 23S rRNA). To test that interaction hypothesis selections were performed for mutations in domains IV-VI that compensated for the growth defects caused by G1093A. Several compensatory mutations were isolated which not only restored growth in the presence of G1093A but also appeared to compensate for the termination defects caused by the G1093A. Therefore these results provided genetic evidence for an intramolecular interaction that might lead to peptidyl-tRNA hydrolysis. Finally, a new approach to the study of rRNA involvement in termination was designed. By screening a library of rRNA fragments, a fragment of the 23S rRNA (nt 74-136) was identified that caused read through of UGA. The antisense RNA fragment produced a similar effect. The data implicated the corresponding segment of intact 23S rRNA in termination. The results obtained in this work clearly demonstrate that genetic approaches to finding termination-defective rRNA mutants and the testing of the mutant ribosomes in realistic in vitro termination systems will rapidly advance our understanding of the secrets of translation termination.

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Research Info

The Role of Specific Regions of Ribosomal RNAs in Translation Termination