Transfer RNA is highly unstable during early amino acid starvation in Escherichia coli
Due to its long half-life compared to messenger RNA, bacterial transfer RNA is known as stable RNA. Here, we show that tRNAs become highly unstable as part of Escherichia coli 's response to amino acid starvation. Degradation of the majority of cellular tRNA occurs within twenty minutes of the onset of starvation for each of several amino acids. Both the non-cognate and cognate tRNA for the amino acid that the cell is starving for are degraded, and both charged and uncharged tRNA species are affected. The alarmone ppGpp orchestrates the stringent response to amino acid starvation. However, tRNA degradation occurs in a ppGpp-independent manner, as it occurs with similar kinetics in a relaxed mutant. Further, we also observe rapid tRNA degradation in response to rifampicin treatment, which does not induce the stringent response. We propose a unifying model for these observations, in which the surplus tRNA is degraded whenever the demand for protein synthesis is reduced. Thus, the tRNA pool is a highly regulated, dynamic entity. We propose that degradation of surplus tRNA could function to reduce mistranslation in the stressed cell, because it would reduce competition between cognate and near-cognate charged tRNAs at the ribosomal A-site.
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