Research Article

Real-time quantification of single RNA translation dynamics in living cells

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Science  05 May 2016:
aaf0899
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0899

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Abstract

Although mRNA translation is a fundamental biological process, it has never been imaged in real-time with single molecule precision in vivo. To achieve this, we developed Nascent Chain Tracking (NCT), a technique that uses multi-epitope tags and antibody-based fluorescent probes to quantify single mRNA protein synthesis dynamics. NCT reveals an elongation rate of ~10 amino acids per second, with initiation occurring stochastically every ~30 s. Polysomes contain ~1 ribosome every 200-900 nucleotides and are globular rather than elongated in shape. By developing multi-color probes, we show most polysomes act independently; however, a small fraction (~5%) form complexes in which two distinct mRNAs can be translated simultaneously. The sensitivity and versatility of NCT make it a powerful new tool for quantifying mRNA translation kinetics.

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