The chloroplast atpB and atpE genes encode subunits β and of the ATP synthase, respectively. They are co-transcribed as dicistronic mRNAs in flowering plants. An unusual feature is an overlap (AUGA) of the atpB stop codon (UGA) with the atpE start codon (AUG). Hence, atpE translation has been believed to depend on atpB translation (i.e. translational coupling). Using an in vitro translation system from tobacco chloroplasts, we showed that both atpB and atpE cistrons are translated from the tobacco dicistronic mRNA, and that the efficiency of atpB translation is higher than that of atpE translation. When the atpB 5′-UTR was replaced with lower efficiency 5′-UTRs, atpE translation was higher than atpB translation. Removal of the entire atpB 5′-UTR arrested atpB translation but atpE translation still proceeded. Introduction of a premature stop codon in the atpB cistron did not abolish atpE translation. These results indicate that atpE translation is independent of atpB translation. Mutation analysis showed that the atpE cistron possesses its own cis-element(s) for translation, located ∼25nt upstream from the start codon.
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