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Biological Chemistry

Revised Picture For mRNA Translation

RNA Modification: A base modification called m1A is found in many mRNA start sites and likely helps regulate protein translation

by Stu Borman
February 15, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 7

Researchers have used sequencing methods to show that a methyl-modified base called N1-methyladenosine (m1A) is present near the start region of about one in every five mRNAs in human and mouse cells. The mRNAs so modified are translated into proteins at higher levels than unmodified ones. The work by Gideon Rechavi of Tel Aviv University, Chuan He of the University of Chicago, and coworkers suggests that m1A helps regulate mRNA translation, possibly by marking the start codon for ribosome recognition (Nature 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nature16998). Several other similar RNA modifications are known, such as m6A, which accumulates near stop codons and affects RNA stability, translation, localization, and splicing. The m1A work thus “adds another layer of complexity and potential regulation to the fate of mRNA and hence gene regulation,” comments RNA modifications specialist Chengqi Yi of Peking University, a former member of the He group. The findings could spark follow-up studies to answer questions such as how the modification is made and erased, how it’s recognized and works mechanistically, what processes it regulates or is regulated by, and whether it’s a drug target.

Schematic shows that m1A modifications are found near mRNA start sites, compared with older m6A modifications found near RNA stop sites.
Credit: Adapted from Chuan He
m1A decorates the start codon region of mRNA (Cap = 5´ terminus, and An = polyadenine 3´ terminus) and correlates with mRNA translation into proteins. The discovery adds complexity to the known role of RNA modifications such as m6A, which accumulates near stop codons.


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