The belief that initiation of translation requires communication between the 5′ and 3′ ends of the mRNA guides-or misguides-the interpretation of many experiments. The closed-loop model for initiation creates the expectation that sequences at the 3′ end of eukaryotic mRNAs should regulate translation. This review looks closely at the evidence in three prominent cases where such regulation is claimed. The mRNAs in question encode 15-lipoxygenase, ceruloplasmin, and histones. Vertebrate histone mRNAs lack a poly(A) tail, instead of which a 3′ stem-loop structure is said to promote translation by binding a protein which purportedly binds initiation factors. The proffered evidence for this hypothesis has many flaws. Temporal control of 15-lipoxygenase production in reticulocytes is often cited as another well-documented example of translational regulation via the 3′ untranslated region, but inspection of the evidence reveals significant gaps and contradictions. Solid evidence is lacking also for the idea that a ribosomal protein binds to and shuts off translation of ceruloplasmin mRNA. Some viral RNAs that lack a poly(A) tail have alternative 3′ structures which are said to promote translation via circularization of the mRNA, but in no case has this been shown convincingly. Interpretation of many experiments is compromised by possible effects of the 3′ structures on mRNA stability rather than translation. The functional-half-life assay, which is often employed to rule out effects on mRNA stability, might not be adequate to settle the question. Other issues, such as the possibility of artifacts caused by overexpression of RNA-binding proteins, can complicate studies of translational regulation. There is no doubt that elements at the 3′ end of eukaryotic mRNAs can regulate gene expression in a variety of ways. It has not been shown unequivocally that one of these ways involves direct participation of the 3′ untranslated region in the initiation step of translation. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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