Comparative analysis of orthologous eukaryotic mRNAs: potential hidden functional signals

Nucleic Acids Res. 2004 Mar 18;32(5):1774-82. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkh313. Print 2004.


Sequencing of multiple, nearly complete eukaryotic genomes creates opportunities for detecting previously unnoticed, subtle functional signals in non-coding regions. A genome-wide comparative analysis of orthologous sets of mammalian and yeast mRNAs revealed distinct patterns of evolutionary conservation at the boundaries of the untranslated regions (UTRs) and the coding region (CDS). Elevated sequence conservation was detected in approximately 30 nt regions around the start codon. There seems to be a complementary relationship between sequence conservation in the approximately 30 nt regions of the 5'-UTR immediately upstream of the start codon and that in the synonymous positions of the 5'-terminal 30 nt of the CDS: in mammalian mRNAs, the 5'-UTR shows a greater conservation than the CDS, whereas the opposite trend holds for yeast mRNAs. Unexpectedly, a approximately 30 nt region downstream of the stop codon shows a substantially lower level of sequence conservation than the downstream portions of the 3'-UTRs. However, the sequence in this poorly conserved 30 nt portion of the 3'-UTR is non-random in that it has a higher GC content than the rest of the UTR. It is hypothesized that the elevated sequence conservation in the region immediately upstream of the start codon is related to the requirement for initiation factor binding during pre-initiation ribosomal scanning. In contrast, the poorly conserved region downstream of the stop codon could be involved in the post- termination scanning and dissociation of the ribosomes from the mRNA, which requires only the mRNA-ribosome interaction. Additionally, it was found that the choice of the stop codon in mammals, but not in yeasts, and the context in the immediate vicinity of the stop codons in both mammals and yeasts are subject to strong selection. Thus, genome-wide analysis of orthologous gene sets allows detection of previously unrecognized patterns of sequence conservation, which are likely to reflect hidden functional signals, such as ribosomal filters that could regulate translation by modulating the interaction between the mRNA and ribosomes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Animals
  • Codon, Initiator
  • Codon, Terminator
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mice
  • Polyadenylation
  • RNA, Messenger / chemistry*
  • Rats
  • Regulatory Sequences, Ribonucleic Acid*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Yeasts / genetics


  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Codon, Initiator
  • Codon, Terminator
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Regulatory Sequences, Ribonucleic Acid