Regulation of translation initiation by amino acids in eukaryotic cells

Prog Mol Subcell Biol. 2001;26:155-84. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-56688-2_6.


The translation of mRNA in eukaryotic cells is regulated by amino acids through multiple mechanisms. One such mechanism involves activation of mTOR (Fig. 1). mTOR controls a myriad of downstream effectors, including RNA polymerase I, S6K1, 4E-BP1, and eEF2 kinase. In yeast, and probably in higher eukaryotes, mTOR signals through Tap42p/alpha 4 to regulate protein phosphatases. Through phosphorylation of Tap42p/alpha 4, mTOR abrogates dephosphorylation of the downstream effectors by PP2 A and/or PP6, resulting in their increased phosphorylation. Although at this time still speculative, in vitro results using mTOR immunoprecipitates suggest that mTOR, or an associated kinase, may also be directly involved in phosphorylating some effectors. Enhanced RNA polymerase I activity results in increased transcription of rDNA genes, whereas increased S6K1 activity promotes preferential translation of TOP mRNAs, such as those encoding ribosomal proteins. Together, stimulated RNA polymerase I and S6K1 activities enhance ribosome biogenesis, increasing the translational capacity of the cell. Phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 prohibits its association with eIF4E, allowing eIF4E to bind to eIF4G and form the active eIF4F complex. Increased eIF4F formation preferentially stimulates translation of mRNAs containing long, highly-structured 5' UTRs. Finally, amino acids cause inhibition of the eEF2 kinase, resulting in an increase in the proportion of eEF2 in the active, dephosphorylated form. By inhibiting eEF2 phosphorylation, amino acids may not only stimulate translation elongation, but may also prevent activation of GCN2 by enhancing the rate of removal of deacylated tRNA from the P-site on the ribosome; a potential activator of GCN2. GCN2 may also be regulated directly by the accumulation of deacylated-tRNA caused by treatment with inhibitors of tRNA synthetases or in cells incubated in the absence of essential amino acids. However, because the Km of the tRNA synthetases for amino acids is well above the amino acid concentrations found in plasma of fasted animals, such a mechanism may not be operative in mammals in vivo. Activation of GCN2 results in increased phosphorylation of the alpha-subunit of eIF2, which in turn causes inhibition of eIF2B. Thus, by preventing activation of GCN2, amino acids preserve eIF2B activity, which promotes translation of all mRNAs, i.e., global protein synthesis is enhanced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Amino Acids, Essential / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2 / metabolism
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2B / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Peptide Chain Initiation, Translational / physiology*
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • RNA, Fungal / genetics
  • RNA, Fungal / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Transfer, Met / metabolism
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases / metabolism
  • Ribosomes / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins*
  • Signal Transduction
  • eIF-2 Kinase / metabolism


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Carrier Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • EIF4EBP1 protein, human
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2B
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • RNA, Fungal
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Transfer, Met
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • GCN2 protein, S cerevisiae
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases
  • eIF-2 Kinase