Live-cell imaging reveals kinetic determinants of quality control triggered by ribosome stalling

Mol Cell. 2021 Apr 15;81(8):1830-1840.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.01.029. Epub 2021 Feb 12.


Translation of problematic mRNA sequences induces ribosome stalling, triggering quality-control events, including ribosome rescue and nascent polypeptide degradation. To define the timing and regulation of these processes, we developed a SunTag-based reporter to monitor translation of a problematic sequence (poly[A]) in real time on single mRNAs. Although poly(A)-containing mRNAs undergo continuous translation over the timescale of minutes to hours, ribosome load is increased by ∼3-fold compared to a control, reflecting long queues of ribosomes extending far upstream of the stall. We monitor the resolution of these queues in real time and find that ribosome rescue is very slow compared to both elongation and termination. Modulation of pause strength, collision frequency, and the collision sensor ZNF598 reveals how the dynamics of ribosome collisions and their recognition facilitate selective targeting for quality control. Our results establish that slow clearance of stalled ribosomes allows cells to distinguish between transient and deleterious stalls.

Keywords: SunTag; imaging; mRNA; protein synthesis; quality control; ribosome; single-molecule; translation.

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

  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Peptide Chain Elongation, Translational / genetics*
  • Peptide Chain Termination, Translational / genetics*
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Poly A / genetics
  • Quality Control
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Ribosomes / genetics*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Poly A