The translational apparatus is a highly complex structure containing three to four RNA molecules and more than 50 different proteins. In recent years considerable evidence has accumulated to indicate that the RNA participates intensively in the catalysis of peptide-bond formation, whereas a direct involvement of the ribosomal proteins has yet to be demonstrated. Here we report the functional and structural conservation of a peptidyltransferase centre protein in all three phylogenetic domains. In vivo replacement studies show that the Escherichia coli L2 protein can be replaced by its homologous proteins from human and archaebacterial ribosomes. These hybrid ribosomes are active in protein biosynthesis, as proven by polysome analysis and poly(U)-dependent polyphenylalanine synthesis. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a specific, highly conserved, histidine residue in the C-terminal region of L2 is essential for the function of the translational apparatus. Replacement of this histidine residue in the human and archaebacterial proteins by glycine, arginine or alanine had no effect on ribosome assembly, but strongly reduced the translational activity of ribosomes containing these mutants.
Present address: B.R.A.H.M.S. Diagnostica G.m.b.H., Komturstrasse 19–20, D-12099 Berlin, Germany.