Escherichia coli protein synthesis is limited by mRNA availability rather than ribosomal capacity during phosphate starvation

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Protein synthesis is the most energetically costly process in the cell. Consequently, it is a tightly regulated process, and regulation of the resources allocated to the protein synthesis machinery is at the heart of bacterial growth optimization theory. However, the molecular mechanisms that result in dynamic downregulation of protein synthesis in response to nutrient starvation are not well described. Here, we first quantify the Escherichia coli response to phosphate starvation at the level of accumulation rates for protein, RNA and DNA. Escherichia coli maintains a low level of protein synthesis for hours after the removal of phosphate while the RNA contents decrease, primarily as a consequence of ribosomal RNA degradation combined with a reduced RNA synthesis rate. To understand the molecular basis for the low protein synthesis rate of phosphate-starved cells, template mRNA for translation was overproduced in the form of a highly induced long-lived mRNA. Remarkably, starved cells increased the rate of protein synthesis and reduced the rate of ribosomal RNA degradation upon mRNA induction. These observations suggest that protein synthesis in phosphate-starved cells is primarily limited by the availability of template, and does not operate at the maximum capacity of the ribosomes. We suggest that mRNA limitation is an adaptive response to phosphate starvation that prevents the deleterious consequences of overcommitting resources to protein synthesis. Moreover, our results support the model that degradation of ribosomal RNA occurs as a consequence of the availability of idle ribosomal subunits.
TidsskriftFrontiers in Microbiology
Antal sider13
StatusUdgivet - 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Independent Research Fund Denmark, grants 8021-00280A and 8049-00071B.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Espinosa, Sørensen and Svenningsen.

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