The accurate decoding of the genetic information by the ribosome relies on the communication between the decoding center of the ribosome, where the tRNA anticodon interacts with the codon, and the GTPase center of EF-Tu, where GTP hydrolysis takes place. In the A/T state of decoding, the tRNA undergoes a large conformational change that results in a more open, distorted tRNA structure. Here we use a real-time transient fluorescence quenching approach to monitor the timing and the extent of the tRNA distortion upon reading cognate or near-cognate codons. The tRNA is distorted upon codon recognition and remains in that conformation until the tRNA is released from EF-Tu, although the extent of distortion gradually changes upon transition from the pre- to the post-hydrolysis steps of decoding. The timing and extent of the rearrangement is similar on cognate and near-cognate codons, suggesting that the tRNA distortion alone does not provide a specific switch for the preferential activation of GTP hydrolysis on the cognate codon. Thus, although the tRNA plays an active role in signal transmission between the decoding and GTPase centers, other regulators of signaling must be involved.
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