Mitochondria are ubiquitous organelles present in the cytoplasm of all nucleated eukaryotic cells. These organelles are described as arising from a common ancestor but a comparison of numerous aspects of mitochondria between different organisms provides remarkable examples of divergent evolution. In humans, these organelles are of dual genetic origin, comprising ∼1500 nuclear-encoded proteins and thirteen that are encoded by the mitochondrial genome. Of the various functions that these organelles perform, it is only oxidative phosphorylation, which provides ATP as a source of chemical energy, that is dependent on synthesis of these thirteen mitochondrially encoded proteins. A prerequisite for this process of translation are the mitoribosomes. The recent revolution in cryo-electron microscopy has generated high-resolution mitoribosome structures and has undoubtedly revealed some of the most distinctive molecular aspects of the mitoribosomes from different organisms. However, we still lack a complete understanding of the mechanistic aspects of this process and many of the factors involved in post-transcriptional gene expression in mitochondria. This review reflects on the current knowledge and illustrates some of the striking differences that have been identified between mitochondria from a range of organisms.
The central dogma states that DNA is transcribed to generate RNA and that the mRNA components are then translated to generate proteins; a simple statement that completely belies the complexities of gene expression. Post-transcriptional regulation alone has many points of control, including changes in the stability, translatability or susceptibility to degradation of RNA species, where both cis - and trans -acting elements will play a role in the outcome. The present review concentrates on just one aspect of this complicated process, which ultimately regulates the protein production in cells, or more specifically what governs RNA catabolism in a particular subcompartment of human cells: the mitochondrion.
Mitochondria are ubiquitous and essential organelles for all nucleated cells of higher eukaryotes. They contain their own genome [mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA)], and this autosomally replicating extranuclear DNA encodes a complement of genes whose products are required to couple oxidative phosphorylation. Sequencing of this human mtDNA more than 20 years ago revealed unusual features that included a modified codon usage. Specific deviations from the standard genetic code include recoding of the conventional UGA stop to tryptophan, and, strikingly, the apparent recoding of two arginine triplets (AGA and AGG) to termination signals. This latter reassignment was made because of the absence of cognate mtDNA-encoded tRNAs, and a lack of tRNAs imported from the cytosol. Each of these codons only occurs once and, in both cases, at the very end of an open reading frame. The presence of both AGA and AGG is rarely found in other mammals, and the molecular mechanism that has driven the change from encoding arginine to dictating a translational stop has posed a challenging conundrum. Mitochondria from the majority of other organisms studied use only UAA and UAG, leaving the intriguing question of why human organelles appear to have added the complication of a further two stop codons, AGA and AGG, or have they? In the present review, we report recent data to show that mammalian mitochondria can utilize a −1 frameshift such that only the standard UAA and UAG stop codons are required to terminate the synthesis of all 13 polypeptides.
mRNA turnover in human mitochondria, one of the key mechanisms governing mitochondrial gene expression, still presents an unsolved puzzle. The present article summarizes the current research on the mechanisms and enzymes that may be involved in that process.