Potential role of the X circular code in the regulation of gene expression
Julie D.Thompsona, Raymond Rippa, Claudine Mayera,b,c, Olivier Pocha, Christian J.Michela
Department of Computer Science, ICube, CNRS, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France.
The X circular code is a set of 20 trinucleotides (codons) that has been identified in the protein-coding genes of most organisms (bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, plasmids, viruses). It has been shown previously that the X circular code has the important mathematical property of being an error-correcting code. Thus, motifs of the X circular code, i.e. a series of codons belonging to X and called X motifs, allow identification and maintenance of the reading frame in genes. X motifs are significantly enriched in protein-coding genes, but have also been identified in many transfer RNA (tRNA) genes and in important functional regions of the ribosomal RNA (rRNA), notably in the peptidyl transferase center and the decoding center. Here, we investigate the potential role of X motifs as functional elements of protein-coding genes. First, we identify the codons of the X circular code which are frequent or rare in each domain of life (archaea, bacteria, eukaryota) and show that, for the amino acids with the highest codon bias, the preferred codon is often an X codon. We also observe a correlation between the 20 X codons and the optimal codons/dicodons that have been shown to influence translation efficiency. Then, we examined recently published experimental results concerning gene expression levels in diverse organisms. The approach used is the analysis of X motifs according to their density ds (X), i.e. the number of X motifs per kilobase in a gene sequence s. Surprisingly, this simple parameter identifies several unexpected relations between the X circular code and gene expression. For example, the X motifs are significantly enriched in the minimal gene set belonging to the three domains of life, and in codon-optimized genes. Furthermore, the density of X motifs generally correlates with experimental measures of translation efficiency and mRNA stability. Taken together, these results lead us to propose that the X motifs may represent a genetic signal contributing to the maintenance of the correct reading frame and the optimization and regulation of gene expression.
Key words: Gene expression, Codon optimization, Codon usage, Genetic code, Circular code.