Evidence for a novel overlapping coding sequence in POLG initiated at a CUG start codon

BMC Genet. 2020 Mar 6;21(1):25. doi: 10.1186/s12863-020-0828-7.


Background: POLG, located on nuclear chromosome 15, encodes the DNA polymerase γ(Pol γ). Pol γ is responsible for the replication and repair of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Pol γ is the only DNA polymerase found in mitochondria for most animal cells. Mutations in POLG are the most common single-gene cause of diseases of mitochondria and have been mapped over the coding region of the POLG ORF.

Results: Using PhyloCSF to survey alternative reading frames, we found a conserved coding signature in an alternative frame in exons 2 and 3 of POLG, herein referred to as ORF-Y that arose de novo in placental mammals. Using the synplot2 program, synonymous site conservation was found among mammals in the region of the POLG ORF that is overlapped by ORF-Y. Ribosome profiling data revealed that ORF-Y is translated and that initiation likely occurs at a CUG codon. Inspection of an alignment of mammalian sequences containing ORF-Y revealed that the CUG codon has a strong initiation context and that a well-conserved predicted RNA stem-loop begins 14 nucleotides downstream. Such features are associated with enhanced initiation at near-cognate non-AUG codons. Reanalysis of the Kim et al. (2014) draft human proteome dataset yielded two unique peptides that map unambiguously to ORF-Y. An additional conserved uORF, herein referred to as ORF-Z, was also found in exon 2 of POLG. Lastly, we surveyed Clinvar variants that are synonymous with respect to the POLG ORF and found that most of these variants cause amino acid changes in ORF-Y or ORF-Z.

Conclusions: We provide evidence for a novel coding sequence, ORF-Y, that overlaps the POLG ORF. Ribosome profiling and mass spectrometry data show that ORF-Y is expressed. PhyloCSF and synplot2 analysis show that ORF-Y is subject to strong purifying selection. An abundance of disease-correlated mutations that map to exons 2 and 3 of POLG but also affect ORF-Y provides potential clinical significance to this finding.

Keywords: CUG; Initiation; Mitochondria; POLG; PhyloCSF; Polymerase; Ribosome; Synonymous site conservation; synplot2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Codon, Initiator / genetics*
  • DNA Polymerase gamma / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Exons / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Ribosomes / genetics*


  • Codon, Initiator
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • POLG protein, human