The 3-methylcytidine (m³C) modification is widely found in eukaryotic species of tRNA(Ser), tRNA(Thr), and tRNA(Arg); at residue 32 in the anti-codon loop; and at residue e2 in the variable stem of tRNA(Ser). Little is known about the function of this modification or about the specificity of the corresponding methyltransferase, since the gene has not been identified. We have used a primer extension assay to screen a battery of methyltransferase candidate knockout strains in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and find that tRNA(Thr(IGU)) from abp140-Δ strains lacks m³C. Curiously, Abp140p is composed of a poorly conserved N-terminal ORF fused by a programed +1 frameshift in budding yeasts to a C-terminal ORF containing an S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) domain that is highly conserved among eukaryotes. We show that ABP140 is required for m³C modification of substrate tRNAs, since primer extension is similarly affected for all tRNA species expected to have m³C and since quantitative analysis shows explicitly that tRNA(Thr(IGU)) from an abp140-Δ strain lacks m³C. We also show that Abp140p (now named Trm140p) purified after expression in yeast or Escherichia coli has m³C methyltransferase activity, which is specific for tRNA(Thr(IGU)) and not tRNA(Phe) and occurs specifically at C₃₂. We suggest that the C-terminal ORF of Trm140p is necessary and sufficient for activity in vivo and in vitro, based on analysis of constructs deleted for most or all of the N-terminal ORF. We also suggest that m³C has a role in translation, since trm140-Δ trm1-Δ strains (also lacking m²,²G₂₆) are sensitive to low concentrations of cycloheximide.
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