Racing along transcripts: Correlating ribosome profiling and protein structure.

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I gave a presentation about the state of my research to the group (can you tell I’m excited for the new Star Wars!). Since then, little has changed due to my absenteeism from Oxford, which means ((un)luckily) the state of work is by and large the same. Now, my work focusses on the effect that the translation speed of a given mRNA sequence can have on the eventual protein product, specifically through the phenomena of cotranslational folding. I’ve discussed the evidence behind this in prior posts (see here and here), though I find the below video a good reminder of why we can’t always just go as fast as we like.

So given that translation speed is important, how do we in fact measure it? Traditional measures, such as tAI and CAI, infer them using the codon bias within the genome or by comparing the counts of tRNA genes in a genome. However, while these have been shown to somewhat relate to speed, they are still solely theoretical in their construction. An alternative is ribosome profiling, which I’ve discussed in depth before (see here), which provides an actual experimental measure of the time taken to translate each codon in an mRNA sequence. In my latest work, I have compiled ribosome profiling data from 7 different experiments, consisting of 6 diverse organisms and processed them all in the same fashion from their respective raw data. Combined, the dataset gives ribosome profiling “speed” values for approximately 25 thousand genes across the various organisms.

Screenshot from 2015-10-22 13:58:17

Our first task with this dataset is to see how well the traditional measures compare to the ribosome profiling data. For this, we calculated the correlation against CAI, MinMax, nTE and tAI, with the results presented in the figure above. We find that basically no measure adequately captures the entirety of the translation speed; some measures failing completely, others obviously capturing some part of the behaviour, and then some others even predicting the reverse! Given that no measure captured the behaviour adequately, we realised that existing results that related the translation speed to the protein structure, may, in fact, be wrong. Thus, we decided that we should recreate the analysis using our dataset to either validate or correct the original observations. To do this we combined our ribosome profiling dataset with matching PDB structures, such that we had the sequence, the structure, and the translation speed for approximately 4500 genes over the 6 species. While I won’t go in to details here (see upcoming paper – touch wood), we analysed the relationship between the speed and the solvent accessibility, the secondary structure, and linker regions. We found striking differences to the observations found in the literature that I’ll be excited to share in the near future.

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