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Bacteria must rapidly respond to both intracellular and environmental changes to survive. One critical mechanism to rapidly detect and adapt to changes in environmental conditions is control of gene expression at the level of protein synthesis. At each of the three major steps of translation—initiation, elongation, and termination—cells use stimuli to tune translation rate and cellular protein concentrations. For example, changes in nutrient concentrations in the cell can lead to translational responses involving mechanisms such as dynamic folding of riboswitches during translation initiation or the synthesis of alarmones, which drastically alter cell physiology. Moreover, the cell can fine-tune the levels of specific protein products using programmed ribosome pausing or inducing frameshifting. Recent studies have improved understanding and revealed greater complexity regarding long-standing paradigms describing key regulatory steps of translation such as start-site selection and the coupling of transcription and translation. In this review, we describe how bacteria regulate their gene expression at the three translational steps and discuss how translation is used to detect and respond to changes in the cellular environment. Finally, we appraise the costs and benefits of regulation at the translational level in bacteria.


This article was originally published in Journal of Biological Chemistry, volume 295, in 2020.


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