Function of 3′ non-coding sequences and stop codon usage in expression of the chloroplast psaB gene in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

Hyeonmoo Lee, Scott E. Bingham, Andrew Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The rate of mRNA decay is an important step in the control of gene expression in prokaryotes, eukaryotes and cellular organelles. Factors that determine the rate of mRNA decay in chloroplasts are not well understood. Chloroplast mRNAs typically contain an inverted repeat sequence within the 3′ untranslated region that can potentially fold into a stem-loop structure. These stem-loop structures have been suggested to stabilize the mRNA by preventing degradation by exonuclease activity, although such a function in vivo has not been clearly established. Secondary structures within the translation reading frame may also determine the inherent stability of an mRNA. To test the function of the inverted repeat structures in chloroplast mRNA stability mutants were constructed in the psaB gene that eliminated the 3′ flanking sequences of psaB or extended the open reading frame into the 3′ inverted repeat. The mutant psaB genes were introduced into the chloroplast genome of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Mutants lacking the 3′ stem-loop exhibited a 75% reduction in the level of psaB mRNA. The accumulation of photosystem I complexes was also decreased by a corresponding amount indicating that the mRNA level is limiting to PsaB protein synthesis. Pulse-chase labeling of the mRNA showed that the decay rate of the psaB mRNA was significantly increased demonstrating that the stem-loop structure is required for psaB mRNA stability. When the translation reading frame was extended into the 3′ inverted repeat the mRNA level was reduced to only 2% of wild-type indicating that ribosome interaction with stem-loop structures destabilizes chloroplast mRNAs. The non-photosynthetic phenotype of the mutant with an extended reading frame allowed us to test whether infrequently used stop codons (UAG and UGA) can terminate translation in vivo. Both UAG and UGA are able to effectively terminate PsaB synthesis although UGA is never used in any of the Chlamydomonas chloroplast genes that have been sequenced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-354
Number of pages18
JournalPlant Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Chloroplast transformation
  • Photosystem I
  • mRNA stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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