Gene- and Species-Specific Hox mRNA Translation by Ribosome Expansion Segments

Mol Cell. 2020 Dec 17;80(6):980-995.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2020.10.023. Epub 2020 Nov 16.


Ribosomes have been suggested to directly control gene regulation, but regulatory roles for ribosomal RNA (rRNA) remain largely unexplored. Expansion segments (ESs) consist of multitudes of tentacle-like rRNA structures extending from the core ribosome in eukaryotes. ESs are remarkably variable in sequence and size across eukaryotic evolution with largely unknown functions. In characterizing ribosome binding to a regulatory element within a Homeobox (Hox) 5' UTR, we identify a modular stem-loop within this element that binds to a single ES, ES9S. Engineering chimeric, "humanized" yeast ribosomes for ES9S reveals that an evolutionary change in the sequence of ES9S endows species-specific binding of Hoxa9 mRNA to the ribosome. Genome editing to site-specifically disrupt the Hoxa9-ES9S interaction demonstrates the functional importance for such selective mRNA-rRNA binding in translation control. Together, these studies unravel unexpected gene regulation directly mediated by rRNA and how ribosome evolution drives translation of critical developmental regulators.

Keywords: ES9S; Hox cluster; RNA structure; RNA-protein interaction; expansion segment; internal initiation; internal ribosome entry site; mRNA translation; ribosomal RNA; ribosome; ribosome engineering; stem-loop; yeast.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 5' Untranslated Regions / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Genes, Homeobox / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / ultrastructure
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Protein Biosynthesis / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal / ultrastructure*
  • Ribosomes / genetics*
  • Ribosomes / ultrastructure
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / ultrastructure
  • Species Specificity


  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • homeobox protein HOXA9