The translation machinery recognizes codons that enter the ribosomal A site with remarkable accuracy to ensure that polypeptide synthesis proceeds with a minimum of errors. When a termination codon enters the A site of a eukaryotic ribosome, it is recognized by the release factor eRF1. It has been suggested that the recognition of translation termination signals in these organisms is not limited to a simple trinucleotide codon, but is instead recognized by an extended tetranucleotide termination signal comprised of the stop codon and the first nucleotide that follows. Interestingly, pharmacological agents such as aminoglycoside antibiotics can reduce the efficiency of translation termination by a mechanism that alters this ribosomal proofreading process. This leads to the misincorporation of an amino acid through the pairing of a near-cognate aminoacyl tRNA with the stop codon. To determine whether the sequence context surrounding a stop codon can influence aminoglycoside-mediated suppression of translation termination signals, we developed a series of readthrough constructs that contained different tetranucleotide termination signals, as well as differences in the three bases upstream and downstream of the stop codon. Our results demonstrate that the sequences surrounding a stop codon can play an important role in determining its susceptibility to suppression by aminoglycosides. Furthermore, these distal sequences were found to influence the level of suppression in remarkably distinct ways. These results suggest that the mRNA context influences the suppression of stop codons in response to subtle differences in the conformation of the ribosomal decoding site that result from aminoglycoside binding.
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