Single-Molecule Imaging Reveals Translation of mRNAs Localized to Stress Granules

Cell. 2020 Dec 23;183(7):1801-1812.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.11.010. Epub 2020 Dec 11.


Cellular stress leads to reprogramming of mRNA translation and formation of stress granules (SGs), membraneless organelles consisting of mRNA and RNA-binding proteins. Although the function of SGs remains largely unknown, it is widely assumed they contain exclusively non-translating mRNA. Here, we re-examine this hypothesis using single-molecule imaging of mRNA translation in living cells. Although we observe non-translating mRNAs are preferentially recruited to SGs, we find unequivocal evidence that mRNAs localized to SGs can undergo translation. Our data indicate that SG-associated translation is not rare, and the entire translation cycle (initiation, elongation, and termination) can occur on SG-localized transcripts. Furthermore, translating mRNAs can be observed transitioning between the cytosol and SGs without changing their translational status. Together, these results demonstrate that mRNA localization to SGs is compatible with translation and argue against a direct role for SGs in inhibition of protein synthesis.

Keywords: 5′; ATF4; SunTag; TOP; arsenite; integrated stress response; mRNA translation; membraneless organelles; single-molecule imaging; stress granules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activating Transcription Factor 4 / genetics
  • Activating Transcription Factor 4 / metabolism
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / metabolism*
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Protein Biosynthesis / genetics*
  • RNA Transport / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Single Molecule Imaging*
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • ATF4 protein, human
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Activating Transcription Factor 4