Monday, May 9, 2011

Antibiotics affecting ribosome's protein composition

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

Antibiotics kill bugs; and about a half of them are doing so by messing up translation. That usually means that the ribosome is stalled at a certain step, be it initiation or elongation or ribosomal recycling.

But it is not always just that. Sometimes antibiotics also mess up the ribosome itself  and affect its composition.

Exhibit A: kasugamycin, an antibiotic that inhibits translation initiation in bacteria by interfering with binding of the the initiator tRNA. Amazingly enough, treatment with kasugamycin results in dramatic change in the ribosomal composition which is in turn changing ribosome's functional properties. Several proteins dissociate from the small ribosomal subunit (S1, S2, S6, S12, S18 and S21) which turns the 70S ribosome into a 61S kasugamycin particle. Ribosomal protein S1 is of particular interest here, because it is very important for the mRNA:ribosome interactions and is responsible for  A/U rich sequences acting as translational activators.

The S61 particle loses the ability to translate mRNAs with Shine-Dalgarno sequences, while being able to translate leaderless mRNAs, that is the ones starting directly with the initiation codon at the 5'. These leaderless mRNAs can be translated without the help of any initiation factors, by bacterial and eukaryotic ribosomes alike, so it is no surprise that S61 particles, even though compromised can still translate these messages.

What is particularly interesting in the kasugamycin story, it is that loss of the ribosomal proteins can be reconstituted in vitro by simply mixing the drug with the 70S. This means that the effect is direct rather than mediated by the assembly process (see below for an example of the latter effect).

Exhibit B: chloramphenicol and erythromycin. These antibiotics cause defects of the ribosomal assembly, and they seem to be doing so by interfering with the expresion levels of different ribosomal proteins. Here we have Liebig's barrel in action: you interfere with levels of many components you need to have and end up running out of one, the limiting one.

All of the above is highly relevant for people using antibiotics as tools, for instance in microscopy. Chloramphenicol and kasugamycin are widely used to inhibit translation (for instance here and here). It's worth remembering that they are doing much more than that while interpreting your results. Sometimes the tool you use can have much more complicated character than one would anticipate, as I discussed here.


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