In eubacteria, base pairing between the 3′ end of 16S rRNA and the ribosome-binding site of mRNA is required for efficient initiation of translation. An interaction between the 18S rRNA and the mRNA was also proposed for translation initiation in eukaryotes. Here, we used an antisense RNA approach in vivo to identify the regions of 18S rRNA that might interact with the mRNA 5′ untranslated region (5′ UTR). Various fragments covering the entire mouse 18S rRNA gene were cloned 5′ of a cat reporter gene in a eukaryotic vector, and translation products were analyzed after transient expression in human cells. For the largest part of 18S rRNA, we show that the insertion of complementary fragments in the mRNA 5′ UTR do not impair translation of the downstream open reading frame (ORF). When translation inhibition is observed, reduction of the size of the complementary sequence to less than 200 nt alleviates the inhibitory effect. A single fragment complementary to the 18S rRNA 3′ domain retains its inhibitory potential when reduced to 100 nt. Deletion analyses show that two distinct sequences of approximately 25 nt separated by a spacer sequence of 50 nt are required for the inhibitory effect. Sucrose gradient fractionation of polysomes reveals that mRNAs containing the inhibitory sequences accumulate in the fractions with 40S ribosomal subunits, suggesting that translation is blocked due to stalling of initiation complexes. Our results support an mRNA–rRNA base pairing to explain the translation inhibition observed and suggest that this region of 18S rRNA is properly located for interacting with mRNA.
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