Codon usage bias is a universal feature of eukaryotic and prokaryotic genomes and has been proposed to regulate translation efficiency, accuracy, and protein folding based on the assumption that codon usage affects translation dynamics. The roles of codon usage in translation, however, are not clear and have been challenged by recent ribosome profiling studies. Here we used a Neurospora cell-free translation system to directly monitor the velocity of mRNA translation. We demonstrated that the preferred codons enhance the rate of translation elongation, whereas non-optimal codons slow elongation. Codon usage also controls ribosome traffic on mRNA. These conclusions were supported by ribosome profiling results in vitro and in vivo with template mRNAs designed to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. Finally, we demonstrate that codon usage regulates protein function by affecting co-translational protein folding. These results resolve a long-standing fundamental question and suggest the existence of a codon usage code for protein folding.
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