Origins of the Mechanochemical Coupling of Peptide Bond Formation to Protein Synthesis

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Mechanical forces acting on the ribosome can alter the speed of protein synthesis, indicating that mechanochemistry can contribute to translation control of gene expression. The naturally occurring sources of these mechanical forces, the mechanism by which they are transmitted 10 nm to the ribosome’s catalytic core, and how they influence peptide bond formation rates are largely unknown. Here, we identify a new source of mechanical force acting on the ribosome by using in situ experimental measurements of changes in nascent-chain extension in the exit tunnel in conjunction with all-atom and coarse-grained computer simulations. We demonstrate that when the number of residues composing a nascent chain increases, its unstructured segments outside the ribosome exit tunnel generate piconewtons of force that are fully transmitted to the ribosome’s P-site. The route of force transmission is shown to be through the nascent polypetide’s backbone, not through the wall of the ribosome’s exit tunnel. Utilizing quantum mechanical calculations we find that a consequence of such a pulling force is to decrease the transition state free energy barrier to peptide bond formation, indicating that the elongation of a nascent chain can accelerate translation. Since nascent protein segments can start out as largely unfolded structural ensembles, these results suggest a pulling force is present during protein synthesis that can modulate translation speed. The mechanism of force transmission we have identified and its consequences for peptide bond formation should be relevant regardless of the source of the pulling force.

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Journal of the American Chemical Society, v. 140, issue 15, p. 5077-5087