A system of RNA modifications and biased codon use controls cellular stress response at the level of translation

Chem Res Toxicol. 2014 Mar 17;27(3):330-7. doi: 10.1021/tx400438d. Epub 2014 Jan 27.


Cells respond to environmental stressors and xenobiotic exposures using regulatory networks to control gene expression, and there is an emerging appreciation for the role of numerous postsynthetic chemical modifications of DNA, RNA, and proteins in controlling transcription and translation of the stress response. In this Perspective, we present a model for a new network that regulates the cellular response to xenobiotic exposures and other stresses in which stress-induced reprogramming of a system of dozens of post-transcriptional modifications on tRNA (tRNA) promotes selective translation of codon-biased mRNAs for critical response proteins. As a product of novel genomic and bioanalytical technologies, this model has strong parallels with the regulatory networks of DNA methylation in epigenetics and the variety of protein secondary modifications comprising signaling pathways and the histone code. When present at the tRNA wobble position, the modified ribonucleosides enhance the translation of mRNAs in which the cognate codons of the tRNAs are highly over-represented and that represent critical stress response proteins. A parallel system may also downregulate the translation of families of proteins. Notably, dysregulation of the tRNA methyltransferase enzymes in humans has also been implicated in cancer etiology, with demonstrated oncogenic and tumor-suppressive effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Codon
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Histones / chemistry
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational / drug effects
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Transfer / chemistry
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism*
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity
  • tRNA Methyltransferases / metabolism


  • Codon
  • Histones
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Xenobiotics
  • DNA
  • RNA, Transfer
  • tRNA Methyltransferases