Preferential codon usage in prokaryotic genes: the optimal codon-anticodon interaction energy and the selective codon usage in efficiently expressed genes

Gene. 1982 Jun;18(3):199-209. doi: 10.1016/0378-1119(82)90157-3.


By considering the nucleotide sequence of several highly expressed coding regions in bacteriophage MS2 and mRNAs from Escherichia coli, it is possible to deduce some rules which govern the selection of the most appropriate synonymous codons NNU or NNC read by tRNAs having GNN, QNN or INN as anticodon. The rules fit with the general hypothesis that an efficient in-phase translation is facilitated by proper choice of degenerate codewords promoting a codon-anticodon interaction with intermediate strength (optimal energy) over those with very strong or very weak interaction energy. Moreover, codons corresponding to minor tRNAs are clearly avoided in these efficiently expressed genes. These correlations are clearcut in the normal reading frame but not in the corresponding frameshift sequences +1 and +2. We hypothesize that both the optimization of codon-anticodon interaction energy and the adaptation of the population to codon frequency or vice versa in highly expressed mRNAs of E. coli are part of a strategy that optimizes the efficiency of translation. Conversely, codon usage in weakly expressed genes such as repressor genes follows exactly the opposite rules. It may be concluded that, in addition to the need for coding an amino acid sequence, the energetic consideration for codon-anticodon pairing, as well as the adaptation of codons to the tRNA population, may have been important evolutionary constraints on the selection of the optimal nucleotide sequence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticodon / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Coliphages / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Viral Proteins / genetics


  • Anticodon
  • Codon
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Proteins
  • RNA, Transfer