Selective protein synthesis in oocytes, eggs and early embryos of many organisms drives several critical aspects of early development, including meiotic maturation and entry into mitosis, establishment of embryonic axes and cell fate determination. mRNA-binding proteins which (usually) recognize 3′-UTR (untranslated region) elements in target mRNAs influence the recruitment of the small ribosomal subunit to the 5′ cap. Probably the best studied such protein is CPEB (cytoplasmic polyadenylation element-binding protein), which represses translation in the oocyte in a cap-dependent manner, and activates translation in the meiotically maturing egg, via cytoplasmic polyadenylation. Co-immunoprecipitation and gel-filtration assays revealed that CPEB in Xenopus oocytes is in a very large RNP (ribonucleoprotein) complex and interacts with other RNA-binding proteins including Xp54 RNA helicase, Pat1, RAP55 (RNA-associated protein 55) and FRGY2 (frog germ cell-specific Y-box protein 2), as well as the eIF4E (eukaryotic initiation factor 4E)-binding protein 4E-T (eIF4E-transporter) and an ovary-specific eIF4E1b, which binds the cap weakly. Functional tests which implicate 4E-T and eIF4E1b in translational repression in oocytes led us to propose a model for the specific inhibition of translation of a target mRNA by a weak cap-binding protein. The components of the CPEB RNP complex are common to P-bodies (processing bodies), neuronal granules and germinal granules, suggesting that a highly conserved ‘masking’ complex operates in early development, neurons and somatic cells.

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