Short leader genes usually do not encode stable proteins, although their importance in expression control of bacterial genomes is widely accepted. Such genes are often involved in the control of attenuation regulation. However, the abundance of leader genes suggests that their role in bacteria is not limited to regulation. Specifically, we hypothesize that leader genes increase the expression of protein-coding (structural) genes via ribosome reinitiation at the leader peptide in the case of a short distance between the stop codon of the leader gene and the start codon of the structural gene. For instance, in Actinobacteria, the frequency of leader genes at a distance of 10-11 bp is about 70 % higher than the mean frequency within the 1 to 65 bp range; and it gradually decreases as the range grows longer. A pronounced peak of this frequency-distance relationship is also observed in Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Spirochaetales, Acidobacteria, the Deinococcus-Thermus group, and Planctomycetes. In contrast, this peak falls to the distance of 15-16 bp and is not very pronounced in Firmicutes; and no such peak is observed in cyanobacteria and tenericutes. Generally, this peak is typical for many bacteria. Some leader genes located close to a structural gene probably play a regulatory role as well.
Keywords: Bacteria; Leader gene; Leader gene-structural gene distance; Reinitiation; Ribosome.