MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are predicted to regulate 30% of mammalian protein-encoding genes by interactions with their 3' untranslated regions (UTRs). We use partially complementary siRNAs to investigate the mechanism by which miRNAs mediate translational repression in human cells. Repressed mRNAs are associated with polyribosomes that are engaged in translation elongation, as shown by puromycin sensitivity. The inhibition appears to be postinitiation because translation driven by the cap-independent processes of HCV IRES and CrPV IRES is repressed by short RNAs. Further, metabolic labeling suggests that silencing occurs before completion of the nascent polypeptide chain. In addition, silencing by short RNAs causes a decrease in translational readthrough at a stop codon, and ribosomes on repressed mRNAs dissociate more rapidly after a block of initiation of translation than those on control mRNAs. These results suggest that repression by short RNAs, and thus probably miRNAs, is primarily due to ribosome drop off during elongation of translation.
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