Indexed on: 01 Oct '05Published on: 01 Oct '05Published in: Molecular Microbiology
When protein synthesis stalls in bacteria, tmRNA acts first as a surrogate tRNA and then as an mRNA in a series of reactions that append a peptide tag to the nascent polypeptide and 'rescue' the ribosome. The peptide tag encoded by wild-type tmRNA promotes rapid degradation of rescued proteins. Using a mutant tmRNA that encodes a tag that does not lead to degradation, we demonstrate that the synthesis of approximately 0.4% of all proteins terminates with tagging and ribosome rescue during normal exponential growth of Escherichia coli. The frequency of tagging was not significantly increased in cells expressing very high levels of tmRNA and its binding protein SmpB, suggesting that recognition of 'stalled' ribosomes does not involve competition between tmRNA and other translation factors for A-sites that are unoccupied transiently during protein synthesis. When the demand for ribosome rescue was increased artificially by overproduction of a non-stop mRNA, tmRNA levels did not increase but tmRNA-mediated tagging increased substantially. Thus, the ribosome-rescue system usually operates well below capacity.