A heterogeneous tRNA granule structure exhibiting rapid, bi-directional neuritic transport

Eur J Cell Biol. 2018 Apr;97(3):168-179. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcb.2018.02.002. Epub 2018 Feb 16.


mRNA translation is regulated by diverse mechanisms that converge at the initiation and elongation steps to determine the rate, profile, and localization of proteins synthesized. A consistently relevant feature of these mechanisms is the spatial re-distribution of translation machinery, a process of particular importance in neural cells. This process has, however, been largely overlooked with respect to its potential role in regulating the local concentration of cytoplasmic tRNAs, even as a multitude of data suggest that spatial regulation of the tRNA pool may help explain the remarkably high rates of peptide elongation. Here, we report that Cy3/Cy5-labeled bulk tRNAs transfected into neural cells distribute into granule-like structures - "tRNA granules" - that exhibit dynamic mixing of tRNAs between granules and rapid, bi-directional vectorial movement within neurites. Imaging of endogenous tRNAgly and tRNAlys by fluorescent in situ hybridization revealed a similar granular distribution of tRNAs in somata and neurites; this distribution was highly overlapping with granules imaged by introduction of exogenous Cy5-tRNAthr and Cy3-tRNAval. A subset of tRNA granules located in the cell body, neurite branch points and growth cones displayed fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) between Cy3 and Cy5-labeled tRNAs indicative of translation, and co-localization with elongation machinery. A population of smaller, rapidly trafficked granules in neurites lacked FRET and showed poor colocalization with translation initiation and elongation factors, suggesting that they are a translationally inactive tRNA transport particle. Our data suggest that tRNAs are packaged into granules that are rapidly transported to loci where translation is needed, where they may greatly increase the local concentration of tRNAs in support of efficient elongation. The potential implications of this newly described structure for channeling of elongation, local translation, and diseases associated with altered tRNA levels or function are discussed.

Keywords: Channeling; Granule; Neurites; Transfer RNA; Translation; Transport.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / metabolism
  • Neurites / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis / physiology*
  • Protein Transport / physiology*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism*
  • Rats


  • RNA, Transfer