Cap and cap-binding proteins in the control of gene expression

Wiley Interdiscip Rev RNA. 2011 Mar-Apr;2(2):277-98. doi: 10.1002/wrna.52. Epub 2010 Oct 28.


The 5' mRNA cap structure is essential for efficient gene expression from yeast to human. It plays a critical role in all aspects of the life cycle of an mRNA molecule. Capping occurs co-transcriptionally on the nascent pre-mRNA as it emerges from the RNA exit channel of RNA polymerase II. The cap structure protects mRNAs from degradation by exonucleases and promotes transcription, polyadenylation, splicing, and nuclear export of mRNA and U-rich, capped snRNAs. In addition, the cap structure is required for the optimal translation of the vast majority of cellular mRNAs, and it also plays a prominent role in the expression of eukaryotic, viral, and parasite mRNAs. Cap-binding proteins specifically bind to the cap structure and mediate its functions in the cell. Two major cellular cap-binding proteins have been described to date: eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) in the cytoplasm and nuclear cap binding complex (nCBC), a nuclear complex consisting of a cap-binding subunit cap-binding protein 20 (CBP 20) and an auxiliary protein cap-binding protein 80 (CBP 80). nCBC plays an important role in various aspects of nuclear mRNA metabolism such as pre-mRNA splicing and nuclear export, whereas eIF4E acts primarily as a facilitator of mRNA translation. In this review, we highlight recent findings on the role of the cap structure and cap-binding proteins in the regulation of gene expression. We also describe emerging regulatory pathways that control mRNA capping and cap-binding proteins in the cell.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Alternative Splicing / genetics
  • Alternative Splicing / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nonsense Mediated mRNA Decay / genetics
  • Nonsense Mediated mRNA Decay / physiology
  • RNA Cap-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • RNA Cap-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • RNA Cap-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA Cap-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • RNA Caps / chemistry
  • RNA Caps / genetics
  • RNA Caps / metabolism
  • RNA Caps / physiology*
  • RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional


  • RNA Cap-Binding Proteins
  • RNA Caps