Control of translation initiation involves a factor-induced rearrangement of helix 44 of 16S ribosomal RNA

Mol Microbiol. 2009 Mar;71(5):1239-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06598.x. Epub 2009 Jan 16.


Initiation of translation involves recognition of the start codon by the initiator tRNA in the 30S subunit. To investigate the role of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) in this process, we isolated a number of 16S rRNA mutations that increase translation from the non-canonical start codon AUC. These mutations cluster to distinct regions that overlap remarkably well with previously identified class III protection sites and implicate both IF1 and IF3 in start codon selection. Two mutations map to the 790 loop and presumably act by inhibiting IF3 binding. Another cluster of mutations surrounds the conserved A1413(o)G1487 base pair of helix 44 in a region known to be distorted by IF1 and IF3. Site-directed mutagenesis in this region confirmed that this factor-induced rearrangement of helix 44 helps regulate initiation fidelity. A third cluster of mutations maps to the neck of the 30S subunit, suggesting that the dynamics of the head domain influences translation initiation. In addition to identifying mutations that decrease fidelity, we found that many P-site mutations increase the stringency of start codon selection. These data provide evidence that the interaction between the initiator tRNA and the 30S P site is tuned to balance efficiency and accuracy during initiation.

MeSH terms

  • Codon, Initiator / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Mutation
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Peptide Chain Initiation, Translational*
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • RNA, Transfer, Met / metabolism


  • Codon, Initiator
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • RNA, Transfer, Met