Under amino acid starvation conditions, eukaryotic organisms activate a general amino acid control response. In Neurospora crassa, Cross Pathway Control Protein 1 (CPC-1), the ortholog of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae bZIP transcription factor GCN4, functions as the master regulator of the general amino acid control re-sponse. Codon usage biases are a universal feature of eukaryotic genomes and are critical for regulation of gene expression. Although codon usage has also been im-plicated in the regulation of protein structure and function, genetic evidence sup-porting this conclusion is very limited. Here, we show that Neurospora cpc-1 has a nonoptimal NNU-rich codon usage profile that contrasts with the strong NNC codon preference in the genome. Although substitution of the cpc-1 NNU codons with synonymous NNC codons elevated CPC-1 expression in Neurospora, it altered the CPC-1 degradation rate and abolished its amino acid starvation-induced protein stabilization. The codon-manipulated CPC-1 protein also exhibited different sensitivity to limited protease digestion. Furthermore, CPC-1 functions in rescuing the cell growth of the cpc-1 deletion mutant and activation of the expression of its target genes were impaired by the synonymous codon changes. Together, these results reveal the critical role of codon usage in regulation of CPC-1 expression and function and establish a genetic example of the importance of codon usage in protein folding. IMPORTANCE The general amino acid control response is critical for adaptation of organisms to amino acid starvation conditions. The preference to use certain synonymous codons is a universal feature of all genomes. Synonymous codon changes were previously thought to be silent mutations. In this study, we showed that the Neurospora cpc-1 gene has an unusual codon usage profile compared to other genes in the genome. We found that codon optimization of the cpc-1 gene without changing its amino acid sequence resulted in elevated CPC-1 expression, an altered protein degradation rate, and impaired protein functions due to changes in protein structure. Together, these results reveal the critical role of synonymous codon usage in regulation of CPC-1 expression and function and establish a genetic example of the importance of codon usage in protein structure.
- Codon usage
- Cotranslational protein folding
- Cross-pathway control
- Translation elongation
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