Translation initiation defines the identity and quantity of a synthesized protein. The process is dysregulated in many human diseases1,2. A key commitment step is when the ribosomal subunits join at a translation start site on a messenger RNA to form a functional ribosome. Here, we combined single-molecule spectroscopy and structural methods using an in vitro reconstituted system to examine how the human ribosomal subunits join. Single-molecule fluorescence revealed when the universally conserved eukaryotic initiation factors eIF1A and eIF5B associate with and depart from initiation complexes. Guided by single-molecule dynamics, we visualized initiation complexes that contained both eIF1A and eIF5B using single-particle cryo-electron microscopy. The resulting structure revealed how eukaryote-specific contacts between the two proteins remodel the initiation complex to orient the initiator aminoacyl-tRNA in a conformation compatible with ribosomal subunit joining. Collectively, our findings provide a quantitative and architectural framework for the molecular choreography orchestrated by eIF1A and eIF5B during translation initiation in humans.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.