The ribosome has recently transitioned from being viewed as a passive, indiscriminate machine to a more dynamic macromolecular complex with specialized roles in the cell. Here, we discuss the historical milestones from the discovery of the ribosome itself to how this ancient machinery has gained newfound appreciation as a more regulatory participant in the central dogma of gene expression. The first emerging examples of direct changes in ribosome composition at the RNA and protein level, coupled with an increased awareness of the role individual ribosomal components play in the translation of specific mRNAs, is opening a new field of study centered on ribosome-mediated control of gene regulation. In this Perspective, we discuss our current understanding of the known functions for ribosome heterogeneity, including specialized translation of individual transcripts, and its implications for the regulation and expression of key gene regulatory networks. In addition, we suggest what the crucial next steps are to ascertain the extent of ribosome heterogeneity and specialization and its importance for regulation of the proteome within subcellular space, across different cell types, and during multi-cellular organismal development.
Keywords: internal ribosome entry site (IRES); mRNA; mass spectrometry; specialized ribosomes; translation.
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