Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Codon usage suggests that translational selection has a major impact on protein expression in trypanosomatids

David Horn

Author Affiliations

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

BMC Genomics 2008, 9:2  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-2

Published: 3 January 2008

Abstract

Background

Different proteins are required in widely different quantities to build a living cell. In most organisms, transcription control makes a major contribution to differential expression. This is not the case in trypanosomatids where most genes are transcribed at an equivalent rate within large polycistronic clusters. Thus, trypanosomatids must use post-transcriptional control mechanisms to balance gene expression requirements.

Results

Here, the evidence for translational selection, the enrichment of 'favoured' codons in more highly expressed genes, is explored. A set of highly expressed, tandem-repeated genes display codon bias in Trypanosoma cruzi, Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania major. The tRNA complement reveals forty-five of the sixty-one possible anticodons indicating widespread use of 'wobble' tRNAs. Consistent with translational selection, cognate tRNA genes for favoured codons are over-represented. Importantly, codon usage (Codon Adaptation Index) correlates with predicted and observed expression level. In addition, relative codon bias is broadly conserved among syntenic genes from different trypanosomatids.

Conclusion

Synonymous codon bias is correlated with tRNA gene copy number and with protein expression level in trypanosomatids. Taken together, the results suggest that translational selection is the dominant mechanism underlying the control of differential protein expression in these organisms. The findings reveal how trypanosomatids may compensate for a paucity of canonical Pol II promoters and subsequent widespread constitutive RNA polymerase II transcription.