A periodic pattern of mRNA secondary structure created by the genetic code.

National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20894, USA.
Nucleic Acids Research (Impact Factor: 8.28). 02/2006; 34(8):2428-37. DOI:10.1093/nar/gkl287
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Single-stranded mRNA molecules form secondary structures through complementary self-interactions. Several hypotheses have been proposed on the relationship between the nucleotide sequence, encoded amino acid sequence and mRNA secondary structure. We performed the first transcriptome-wide in silico analysis of the human and mouse mRNA foldings and found a pronounced periodic pattern of nucleotide involvement in mRNA secondary structure. We show that this pattern is created by the structure of the genetic code, and the dinucleotide relative abundances are important for the maintenance of mRNA secondary structure. Although synonymous codon usage contributes to this pattern, it is intrinsic to the structure of the genetic code and manifests itself even in the absence of synonymous codon usage bias at the 4-fold degenerate sites. While all codon sites are important for the maintenance of mRNA secondary structure, degeneracy of the code allows regulation of stability and periodicity of mRNA secondary structure. We demonstrate that the third degenerate codon sites contribute most strongly to mRNA stability. These results convincingly support the hypothesis that redundancies in the genetic code allow transcripts to satisfy requirements for both protein structure and RNA structure. Our data show that selection may be operating on synonymous codons to maintain a more stable and ordered mRNA secondary structure, which is likely to be important for transcript stability and translation. We also demonstrate that functional domains of the mRNA [5'-untranslated region (5'-UTR), CDS and 3'-UTR] preferentially fold onto themselves, while the start codon and stop codon regions are characterized by relaxed secondary structures, which may facilitate initiation and termination of translation.

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