The chloroplast psbD and psbC genes encode the D2 and CP43 proteins of the photosystem II complex, and they are generally cotranscribed. We report studies on the basic translation process of tobacco psbD-psbC mRNAs using an in vitro translation system from tobacco chloroplasts. The primary transcript has an unusually long 5′-UTR (905nt). We show that it is translatable. Processing of the 5′-UTR greatly enhances the translation efficiency of the psbD cistron. A striking feature is that psbD and psbC cistrons overlap by 14nt. Removal of the psbD 5′-UTR plus the start codon and introduction of a premature termination codon in the psbD cistron considerably reduce the translation efficiency of the downstream psbC cistron. These results indicate that translation of the psbC cistron depends largely on that of the upstream psbD cistron and thus shows translational coupling; however, a portion is independently translated. These observations, together with the presence of monocistronic psbC mRNAs, suggest that the psbD and psbC cistrons are translated via multiple processes to produce necessary amounts of D2 and CP43 proteins.
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