Regulation of mRNA translation and stability plays an important role in the control of gene expression during embryonic development. We have recently shown that the tissue-specific expression of the RAR beta 2 gene in mouse embryos is regulated at the translational level by short upstream open reading frames (uORFs) In the 5'-untranslated region (Zimmer, A., A.M. Zimmer, and K. Reynolds. 1994. J. Cell Biol. 127:1111-1119). To gain insight into the molecular mechanism, we have performed a systematic mutational analysis of the uORFs. Two series of constructs were tested: in one series, each uORF was individually inactivated by introducing a point mutation in its start codon; in the second series, all but one ORF were inactivated. Our results indicate that individual uORFs may have different functions. uORF4 seems to inhibit translation of the major ORF in heart and brain, while uORFs 2 and 5 appear to be important for efficient translation in all tissues. To determine whether the polypeptide encoded by uORF4 or the act of translating it, is the significant event, we introduced point mutations to create silent mutations or amino acid substitutions in uORF4. Our results indicate that the uORF4 amino acid coding sequence is important for the inhibitory effect on translation of the downstream major ORF.

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