Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the role of tRNA in translation

Processing of tRNAs and rRNAs

The molecular model of phenylalanine tRNA is L-shaped. At one end is the anticodon AAG. At the other end is the attachment site for the amino acid phenylalanine

Figure 1. This is a space-filling model of a tRNA molecule that adds the amino acid phenylalanine to a growing polypeptide chain. The anticodon AAG binds the Codon UUC on the mRNA. The amino acid phenylalanine is attached to the other end of the tRNA.

The tRNAs and rRNAs are structural molecules that have roles in protein synthesis; however, these RNAs are not themselves translated. Pre-rRNAs are transcribed, processed, and assembled into ribosomes in the nucleolus. Pre-tRNAs are transcribed and processed in the nucleus and then released into the cytoplasm where they are linked to free amino acids for protein synthesis.

Most of the tRNAs and rRNAs in eukaryotes and prokaryotes are first transcribed as a long precursor molecule that spans multiple rRNAs or tRNAs. Enzymes then cleave the precursors into subunits corresponding to each structural RNA. Some of the bases of pre-rRNAs are methylated; that is, a –CH3 moiety (methyl functional group) is added for stability. Pre-tRNA molecules also undergo methylation. As with pre-mRNAs, subunit excision occurs in eukaryotic pre-RNAs destined to become tRNAs or rRNAs.

Mature rRNAs make up approximately 50 percent of each ribosome. Some of a ribosome’s RNA molecules are purely structural, whereas others have catalytic or binding activities. Mature tRNAs take on a three-dimensional structure through intramolecular hydrogen bonding to position the amino acid binding site at one end and the anticodon at the other end (Figure 1).

The anticodon is a three-nucleotide sequence in a tRNA that interacts with an mRNA codon through complementary base pairing.

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