Translational regulation is a key modulator of gene expression in chloroplasts of higher plants and algae. Genetic analysis has shown that translation of chloroplast mRNAs requires nuclear-encoded factors that interact with chloroplastic mRNAs in a message-specific manner. Using site-specific mutations of the chloroplastic psbA mRNA, we show that RNA elements contained within the 5' untranslated region of the mRNA are required for translation. One of these elements is a Shine-Dalgarno consensus sequence, which is necessary for ribosome association and psbA translation. A second element required for high levels of psbA translation is located adjacent to and upstream of the Shine-Dalgarno sequence, and maps to the location on the RNA previously identified as the site of message-specific protein binding. This second element appears to act as a translational attenuator that must be overcome to activate translation. Mutations that affect the secondary structure of these RNA elements greatly reduce the level of psbA translation, suggesting that secondary structure of these RNA elements plays a role in psbA translation. These data suggest a mechanism for translational activation of the chloroplast psbA mRNA in which an RNA element containing the ribosome-binding site is bound by message-specific RNA binding proteins allowing for increased ribosome association and translation initiation. These elements may be involved in the light-regulated translation of the psbA mRNA.

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