Background: Vertebrate development relies on the regulated translation of stored maternal mRNAs, but how these regulatory mechanisms may have evolved to control translational efficiency of individual mRNAs is poorly understood. We compared the translational regulation and polyadenylation of the cyclin B1 mRNA during zebrafish and Xenopus oocyte maturation. Polyadenylation and translational activation of cyclin B1 mRNA is well characterized during Xenopus oocyte maturation. Specifically, Xenopus cyclin B1 mRNA is polyadenylated and translationally activated during oocyte maturation by proteins that recognize the conserved AAUAAA hexanucleotide and U-rich Cytoplasmic Polyadenylation Elements (CPEs) within cyclin B1 mRNA's 3'UnTranslated Region (3'UTR).
Results: The zebrafish cyclin B1 mRNA was polyadenylated during zebrafish oocyte maturation. Furthermore, the zebrafish cyclin B1 mRNA's 3'UTR was sufficient to stimulate translation of a reporter mRNA during zebrafish oocyte maturation. This stimulation required both AAUAAA and U-rich CPE-like sequences. However, in contrast to AAUAAA, the positions and sequences of the functionally defined CPEs were poorly conserved between Xenopus and zebrafish cyclin B1 mRNA 3'UTRs. To determine whether these differences were relevant to translation efficiency, we analyzed the translational activity of reporter mRNAs containing either the zebrafish or Xenopus cyclin B1 mRNA 3'UTRs during both zebrafish and Xenopus oocyte maturation. The zebrafish cyclin B1 3'UTR was quantitatively less effective at stimulating polyadenylation and translation compared to the Xenopus cyclin B1 3'UTR during both zebrafish and Xenopus oocyte maturation.
Conclusion: Although the factors that regulate translation of maternal mRNAs are highly conserved, the target sequences and overall sequence architecture within the 3'UTR of the cyclin B1 mRNA have diverged to affect translational efficiency, perhaps to optimize levels of cyclin B1 protein required by these different species during their earliest embryonic cell divisions.