Codon and amino acid content are associated with mRNA stability in mammalian cells

PLoS One. 2020 Feb 13;15(2):e0228730. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228730. eCollection 2020.


Messenger RNA (mRNA) degradation plays a critical role in regulating transcript levels in the cell and is a major control point for modulating gene expression. In yeast and other model organisms, codon identity is a powerful determinant of transcript stability, contributing broadly to impact half-lives. General principles governing mRNA stability are poorly understood in mammalian systems. Importantly, however, the degradation machinery is highly conserved, thus it seems logical that mammalian transcript half-lives would also be strongly influenced by coding determinants. Herein we characterize the contribution of coding sequence towards mRNA decay in human and Chinese Hamster Ovary cells. In agreement with previous studies, we observed that synonymous codon usage impacts mRNA stability in mammalian cells. Surprisingly, however, we also observe that the amino acid content of a gene is an additional determinant correlating with transcript stability. The impact of codon and amino acid identity on mRNA decay appears to be associated with underlying tRNA and intracellular amino acid concentrations. Accordingly, genes of similar physiological function appear to coordinate their mRNA stabilities in part through codon and amino acid content. Together, these results raise the possibility that intracellular tRNA and amino acid levels interplay to mediate coupling between translational elongation and mRNA degradation rate in mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Codon
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Half-Life
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Open Reading Frames
  • RNA Stability
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Codon
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Transfer