Published on March 6, 2014
The Beginning of mRNA Is Not Translated Interestingly, not all regions of an mRNA molecule correspond to particular amino acids. In particular, there is an area near the 5' end of the molecule that is known as the untranslated region (UTR) or leader sequence. This portion of mRNA is located between the first nucleotide that is transcribed and the start codon (AUG) of the coding region, and it does not affect the sequence of amino acids in a protein (Figure 3). So, what is the purpose of the UTR? It turns out that the leader sequence is important because it contains a ribosome-binding site. In bacteria, this site is known as the Shine-Dalgarno box (AGGAGG), after scientists John Shine and Lynn Dalgarno, who first characterized it. A similar site in vertebrates was characterized by Marilyn Kozak and is thus known as the Kozak box. In bacterial mRNA, the 5' UTR is normally short; in human mRNA, the median length of the 5' UTR is about 170 nucleotides. If the leader is long, it may contain regulatory sequences, including binding sites for proteins, that can affect the stability of the mRNA or the efficiency of its translation.