Visualizing tRNA-dependent mistranslation in human cells

<p>High-fidelity translation and a strictly accurate proteome were originally assumed as essential to life and cellular viability. Yet recent studies in bacteria and eukaryotic model organisms suggest that proteome-wide mistranslation can provide selective advantages and is tolerated in the cell at higher levels than previously thought (one error in 6.9 × 10<sup>−4</sup> in yeast) with a limited impact on phenotype. Previously, we selected a tRNA<sup>Pro</sup> containing a single mutation that induces mistranslation with alanine at proline codons in yeast. Yeast tolerate the mistranslation by inducing a heat-shock response and through the action of the proteasome. Here we found a homologous human tRNA<sup>Pro</sup> (G3:U70) mutant that is not aminoacylated with proline, but is an efficient alanine acceptor. In live human cells, we visualized mistranslation using a green fluorescent protein reporter that fluoresces in response to mistranslation at proline codons. In agreement with measurements in yeast, quantitation based on the GFP reporter suggested a mistranslation rate of up to 2–5% in HEK 293 cells. Our findings suggest a stress-dependent phenomenon where mistranslation levels increased during nutrient starvation. Human cells did not mount a detectable heat-shock response and tolerated this level of mistranslation without apparent impact on cell viability. Because humans encode ∼600 tRNA genes and the natural population has greater tRNA sequence diversity than previously appreciated, our data also demonstrate a cell-based screen with the potential to elucidate mutations in tRNAs that may contribute to or alleviate disease.</p>