Transcriptional regulation of gene expression has been widely studied. More recently, there has been increasing appreciation of the role that translational regulation plays in gene expression, resulting in a number of new fields engaging in translational studies. Regulation of protein synthesis is critical for cell growth, development, and survival, and is primarily controlled at the initiation step. Eukaryotic cells utilize multiple mechanisms to initiate translation, depending on cell stress, growth conditions, viral infection, or the sequences present in the mRNA. While the vast majority of mRNAs are translated in a cap-dependent manner, an important subset of mRNAs uses an alternative mechanism, whereby ribosomes are recruited internally to the message to initiate cap-independent translation. Some of these mRNAs contain an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) located in the 5' untranslated region (UTR). However, establishing that an RNA element is a functional IRES requires a number of carefully executed experiments with specific controls. This review will clearly explain the required experiments, and the pros and cons of various assays, used to determine whether (or not) an RNA element functions as an IRES to promote initiation of translation. We hope that demystifying the accepted methods for assaying IRES activity will open the study of this important mechanism to the broader community.
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.