Short poly(A) tails are a conserved feature of highly expressed genes

Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2017 Dec;24(12):1057-1063. doi: 10.1038/nsmb.3499. Epub 2017 Nov 6.


Poly(A) tails are important elements in mRNA translation and stability, although recent genome-wide studies have concluded that poly(A) tail length is generally not associated with translational efficiency in nonembryonic cells. To investigate whether poly(A) tail size might be coupled to gene expression in an intact organism, we used an adapted TAIL-seq protocol to measure poly(A) tails in Caenorhabditis elegans. Surprisingly, we found that well-expressed transcripts contain relatively short, well-defined tails. This attribute appears to be dependent on translational efficiency, as transcripts enriched for optimal codons and ribosome association had the shortest tail sizes, whereas noncoding RNAs retained long tails. Across eukaryotes, short tails were a feature of abundant and well-translated mRNAs. This seems to contradict the dogma that deadenylation induces translational inhibition and mRNA decay and suggests that well-expressed mRNAs accumulate with pruned tails that accommodate a minimal number of poly(A)-binding proteins, which may be ideal for protective and translational functions.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Peptide Chain Elongation, Translational / genetics*
  • Poly A / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics


  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • Poly A