When Escherichia coli encounters stress, the endoribonuclease MazF initiates a post-transcriptional response that results in the reprogramming of protein synthesis. By removing the 3΄-terminus of the 16S rRNA, MazF generates specialized ribosomes that selectively translate mRNAs likewise processed by MazF. Given the energy required for de novo ribosome biosynthesis, we considered the existence of a repair mechanism operating upon stress relief to recycle the modified ribosomes. Here, we show that the stress-ribosomes and the 3΄-terminal 16S rRNA fragment are stable during adverse conditions. Moreover, employing in vitro and in vivo approaches we demonstrate that the RNA ligase RtcB catalyzes the re-ligation of the truncated 16S rRNA present in specialized ribosomes Thereby their ability to translate canonical mRNAs is fully restored. Together, our findings not only provide a physiological function for the RNA ligase RtcB in bacteria but highlight the reversibility of ribosome heterogeneity, a crucial but hitherto undescribed concept for translational regulation.
© The Author(s) 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.