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Paper of the month

Trans-oligomerization of duplicated aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases maintains genetic code fidelity under stress


M.A. Rubio, M. Napolitano, J. A. G. Ochoa de Alda, J.Santamaría, C. J. Patterson, A. W. Foster, R. Bru, N. J.Robinson, I. Luque Nucleic Acids Research 2015, Vol. 43, 9905-9917. DOI:

Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) play a key role in deciphering the genetic message by producing charged tRNAs and are equipped with proofreading mechanisms to ensure correct pairing of tRNAs with their cognate amino acid. Duplicated aaRSs are very frequent in Nature, with 25,913 cases observed in 26,837 genomes. The oligomeric nature of many aaRSs raises the question of how the functioning and oligomerization of duplicated enzymes is organized. We characterized this issue in a model prokaryotic organism that expresses two different threonyl-tRNA synthetases, responsible for Thr-tRNAThr synthesis: one accurate and constitutively expressed (T1) and another (T2) with impaired proofreading activity that also generates mischarged Ser-tRNAThr. Low zinc promotes dissociation of dimeric T1 into monomers deprived of aminoacylation activity and simultaneous induction of T2, which is active for aminoacylation under low zinc. T2 either forms homodimers or heterodimerizes with T1 subunits that provide essential proofreading activity in trans. These findings evidence that in organisms with duplicated genes, cells can orchestrate the assemblage of aaRSs oligomers that meet the necessities of the cell in each situation. We propose that controlled oligomerization of duplicated aaRSs is an adaptive mechanism that can potentially be expanded to the plethora of organisms with duplicated oligomeric aaRSs.