A code within the genetic code: Codon usage regulates co-translational protein folding

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66 Scopus citations


The genetic code is degenerate, and most amino acids are encoded by two to six synonymous codons. Codon usage bias, the preference for certain synonymous codons, is a universal feature of all genomes examined. Synonymous codon mutations were previously thought to be silent; however, a growing body evidence now shows that codon usage regulates protein structure and gene expression through effects on co-translational protein folding, translation efficiency and accuracy, mRNA stability, and transcription. Codon usage regulates the speed of translation elongation, resulting in non-uniform ribosome decoding rates on mRNAs during translation that is adapted to co-translational protein folding process. Biochemical and genetic evidence demonstrate that codon usage plays an important role in regulating protein folding and function in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. Certain protein structural types are more sensitive than others to the effects of codon usage on protein folding, and predicted intrinsically disordered domains are more prone to misfolding caused by codon usage changes than other domain types. Bioinformatic analyses revealed that gene codon usage correlates with different protein structures in diverse organisms, indicating the existence of a codon usage code for co-translational protein folding. This review focuses on recent literature on the role and mechanism of codon usage in regulating translation kinetics and co-translational protein folding. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.] [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number145
JournalCell Communication and Signaling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 9 2020


  • Co-translational protein folding
  • Codon usage
  • Intrinsically disordered protein
  • Translation elongation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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