Determinants of translation speed are randomly distributed across transcripts resulting in a universal scaling of protein synthesis times

Ajeet K. Sharma, Nabeel Ahmed, Edward P. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Ribosome profiling experiments have found greater than 100-fold variation in ribosome density along mRNA transcripts, indicating that individual codon elongation rates can vary to a similar degree. This wide range of elongation times, coupled with differences in codon usage between transcripts, suggests that the average codon translation-rate per gene can vary widely. Yet, ribosome run-off experiments have found that the average codon translation rate for different groups of transcripts in mouse stem cells is constant at 5.6 AA/s. How these seemingly contradictory results can be reconciled is the focus of this study. Here, we combine knowledge of the molecular factors shown to influence translation speed with genomic information from Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Homo sapiens to simulate the synthesis of cytosolic proteins in these organisms. The model recapitulates a near constant average translation rate, which we demonstrate arises because the molecular determinants of translation speed are distributed nearly randomly amongst most of the transcripts. Consequently, codon translation rates are also randomly distributed and fast-translating segments of a transcript are likely to be offset by equally probable slow-translating segments, resulting in similar average elongation rates for most transcripts. We also show that the codon usage bias does not significantly affect the near random distribution of codon translation rates because only about 10% of the total transcripts in an organism have high codon usage bias while the rest have little to no bias. Analysis of Ribo-Seq data and an in vivo fluorescent assay supports these conclusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number022409
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 20 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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