bims-micpro Biomed News
on Discovery and characterization of microproteins
Issue of 2021‒08‒08
five papers selected by
Thomas Martinez
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

  1. J Am Chem Soc. 2021 Aug 04.
      Proteogenomic identification of translated small open reading frames in humans has revealed thousands of microproteins, or polypeptides of fewer than 100 amino acids, that were previously invisible to geneticists. Hundreds of microproteins have been shown to be essential for cell growth and proliferation, and many regulate macromolecular complexes. However, the vast majority of microproteins remain functionally uncharacterized, and many lack secondary structure and exhibit limited evolutionary conservation. One such intrinsically disordered microprotein is NBDY, a 68-amino acid component of membraneless organelles known as P-bodies. In this work, we show that NBDY can undergo liquid-liquid phase separation, a biophysical process thought to underlie the formation of membraneless organelles, in the presence of RNA in vitro. Phosphorylation of NBDY drives liquid phase remixing in vitro and macroscopic P-body dissociation in cells undergoing growth factor signaling and cell division. These results suggest that NBDY phosphorylation enables regulation of P-body dynamics during cell proliferation and, more broadly, that intrinsically disordered microproteins may contribute to liquid-liquid phase separation and remixing behavior to affect cellular processes.
  2. J Bacteriol. 2021 Aug 02. JB0029421
      Small proteins encoded by ORFs shorter than 50 codons (sORFs) are often overlooked by annotation engines and are difficult to characterize using traditional biochemical techniques. Ribosome profiling has tremendous potential to empirically improve the annotations of prokaryotic genomes. Recent improvements in ribosome profiling methods for bacterial model organisms have revealed many new sORFs in well-characterized genomes. Antibiotics that trap ribosomes just after initiation have played a key role in these developments by allowing unambiguous identification of the start codons (and hence the reading frame) for novel ORFs. Here we describe these new methods and highlight critical controls and considerations for adapting ribosome profiling to different prokaryotic species.
  3. Life (Basel). 2021 Jul 16. pii: 701. [Epub ahead of print]11(7):
      Ribo-seq, also known as ribosome profiling, refers to the sequencing of ribosome-protected mRNA fragments (RPFs). This technique has greatly advanced our understanding of translation and facilitated the identification of novel open reading frames (ORFs) within untranslated regions or non-coding sequences as well as the identification of non-canonical start codons. However, the widespread application of Ribo-seq has been hindered because obtaining periodic RPFs requires a highly optimized protocol, which may be difficult to achieve, particularly in non-model organisms. Furthermore, the periodic RPFs are too short (28 nt) for accurate mapping to polyploid genomes, but longer RPFs are usually produced with a compromise in periodicity. Here we present RiboNT, a noise-tolerant ORF predictor that can utilize RPFs with poor periodicity. It evaluates RPF periodicity and automatically weighs the support from RPFs and codon usage before combining their contributions to identify translated ORFs. The results demonstrate the utility of RiboNT for identifying both long and small ORFs using RPFs with either good or poor periodicity. We implemented the pipeline on a dataset of RPFs with poor periodicity derived from membrane-bound polysomes of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings and identified several small ORFs (sORFs) evolutionarily conserved in diverse plant species. RiboNT should greatly broaden the application of Ribo-seq by minimizing the requirement of RPF quality and allowing the use of longer RPFs, which is critical for organisms with complex genomes because these RPFs can be more accurately mapped to the position from which they were derived.
    Keywords:  ORFs; RPFs; Ribo-seq; periodicity; ribosome profiling; small ORFs
  4. Wiley Interdiscip Rev RNA. 2021 Aug 02. e1685
      Functional proteins in the cell are translated from the messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, constituting less than 5% of the cellular transcriptome. The majority of the RNA molecules in the cell are noncoding RNAs, including rRNA, tRNA, snRNA, piRNA, lncRNA, microRNA, and poorly characterized circular RNAs (circRNAs). Recent studies established that circRNAs regulate gene expression by associating with RNA-binding proteins and microRNAs. With the growing understanding of circRNA functions, a subset of circRNAs has been reported to translate into proteins. Interestingly, the presence of Open Reading Frames (ORFs), N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modifications, and internal ribosomal entry sites (IRES) in the circRNA sequences indicate their coding potential through the cap-independent translation initiation mechanism. The purpose of this review is to highlight the mechanism of circRNA translation and the importance of circRNA-encoded proteins (circ-proteins) in cellular physiology and pathology. Here, we discuss the computational and molecular methods currently utilized to systematically identify translatable circRNAs and the functional characterization of the circ-proteins. We foresee that the ongoing and future studies on circRNA translation will uncover the hidden proteome and their therapeutic implications in human health. This article is categorized under: RNA Methods > RNA Analyses in Cells Regulatory RNAs/RNAi/Riboswitches > Regulatory RNAs Translation > Mechanisms.
    Keywords:  IRES; cap-independent translation; circRNA; m6A; polypeptide
  5. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Aug 10. pii: e2022136118. [Epub ahead of print]118(32):
      The Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) VapBC4 toxin-antitoxin system is essential for the establishment of Mtb infection. Using a multitier, systems-level approach, we uncovered the sequential molecular events triggered by the VapC4 toxin that activate a circumscribed set of critical stress survival pathways which undoubtedly underlie Mtb virulence. VapC4 exclusively inactivated the sole transfer RNACys (tRNACys) through cleavage at a single site within the anticodon sequence. Depletion of the pool of tRNACys led to ribosome stalling at Cys codons within actively translating messenger RNAs. Genome mapping of these Cys-stalled ribosomes unexpectedly uncovered several unannotated Cys-containing open reading frames (ORFs). Four of these are small ORFs (sORFs) encoding Cys-rich proteins of fewer than 50 amino acids that function as Cys-responsive attenuators that engage ribosome stalling at tracts of Cys codons to control translation of downstream genes. Thus, VapC4 mimics a state of Cys starvation, which then activates Cys attenuation at sORFs to globally redirect metabolism toward the synthesis of free Cys. The resulting newly enriched pool of Cys feeds into the synthesis of mycothiol, the glutathione counterpart in this pathogen that is responsible for maintaining cellular redox homeostasis during oxidative stress, as well as into a circumscribed subset of cellular pathways that enable cells to defend against oxidative and copper stresses characteristically endured by Mtb within macrophages. Our ability to pinpoint activation or down-regulation of pathways that collectively align with Mtb virulence-associated stress responses and the nonreplicating persistent state brings to light a direct and vital role for the VapC4 toxin in mediating these critical pathways.
    Keywords:  RNA-seq; mass spectrometry; mycothiol; protein translation; sulfur assimilation