Deep transcriptome annotation enables the discovery and functional characterization of cryptic small proteins

Elife. 2017 Oct 30;6:e27860. doi: 10.7554/eLife.27860.


Recent functional, proteomic and ribosome profiling studies in eukaryotes have concurrently demonstrated the translation of alternative open-reading frames (altORFs) in addition to annotated protein coding sequences (CDSs). We show that a large number of small proteins could in fact be coded by these altORFs. The putative alternative proteins translated from altORFs have orthologs in many species and contain functional domains. Evolutionary analyses indicate that altORFs often show more extreme conservation patterns than their CDSs. Thousands of alternative proteins are detected in proteomic datasets by reanalysis using a database containing predicted alternative proteins. This is illustrated with specific examples, including altMiD51, a 70 amino acid mitochondrial fission-promoting protein encoded in MiD51/Mief1/SMCR7L, a gene encoding an annotated protein promoting mitochondrial fission. Our results suggest that many genes are multicoding genes and code for a large protein and one or several small proteins.

Keywords: alternative translation; biochemistry; computational biology; human; open reading frames; small proteins; systems biology; translation; translation initiation sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation*
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Proteins / metabolism*


  • Proteins