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Bacterial ribosome collision sensing by a MutS DNA repair ATPase paralogue


Ribosome stalling during translation is detrimental to cellular fitness, but how this is sensed and elicits recycling of ribosomal subunits and quality control of associated mRNA and incomplete nascent chains is poorly understood1,2. Here we uncover Bacillus subtilis MutS2, a member of the conserved MutS family of ATPases that function in DNA mismatch repair3, as an unexpected ribosome-binding protein with an essential function in translational quality control. Cryo-electron microscopy analysis of affinity-purified native complexes shows that MutS2 functions in sensing collisions between stalled and translating ribosomes and suggests how ribosome collisions can serve as platforms to deploy downstream processes: MutS2 has an RNA endonuclease small MutS-related (SMR) domain, as well as an ATPase/clamp domain that is properly positioned to promote ribosomal subunit dissociation, which is a requirement both for ribosome recycling and for initiation of ribosome-associated protein quality control (RQC). Accordingly, MutS2 promotes nascent chain modification with alanine-tail degrons—an early step in RQC—in an ATPase domain-dependent manner. The relevance of these observations is underscored by evidence of strong co-occurrence of MutS2 and RQC genes across bacterial phyla. Overall, the findings demonstrate a deeply conserved role for ribosome collisions in mounting a complex response to the interruption of translation within open reading frames.

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Fig. 1: MutS2 binds to ribosomes and protects cells from translational stress.
Fig. 2: Cryo-EM structure of the bacterial collided disome.
Fig. 3: Structural basis for ribosome collision sensing by MutS2.
Fig. 4: MutS2 promotes ribosome splitting upstream of RQC.

Data availability

Cryo-EM densities have been deposited in the Electron Microscopy Data Bank under accession codes EMD-14163 (‘collided disomes’: 30S leading ribosome), EMD-14162 (‘collided disomes’: 70S leading ribosome), EMD-14165 (‘collided disomes’: 30S collided ribosome), EMD-14164 (‘collided disomes’: 70S collided ribosome), EMD-14157 (‘collided disomes’: composite density), EMD-14166 (dataset 1: 50S ribosome with nascent chain-linked P-site tRNA), EMD-14160 (‘+MutS2’: 70S leading ribosome), EMD-14161 (‘+MutS2’: 70S collided ribosome), EMD-14156 (‘+MutS2 conformation 1’: 70S leading ribosome) and EMD-14159 (‘+MutS2 conformation 2’: 70S leading ribosome). Atomic coordinates have been deposited in the Protein Data Bank under accession codes 7QV1 (‘collided disomes’: 70S leading ribosome), 7QV2 (‘collided disomes’: 70S collided ribosome) and 7QV3 (‘+MutS2 conformation 2’: 70S leading ribosome bound to MutS2 in conformation 2). Published structural data used in this article were obtained from Protein Data Bank under codes 6HA1, 5NGM, 1DIV, 3J9W, 7N2V, 6WDB, 6WDG, 5X9W and 1EWQ and from the AlphaFold Protein Structure Database under code Q2FZD3Source data are provided with this paper.


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The authors thank G. Tsaprailis for MS analyses, G. Crynen for bioinformatic and statistical analyses of proteomics data, E. Zupa for help with atomic modelling, R. Tampé and E. Nürenberg-Goloub for comments on the manuscript, R. Manna and O. Canterbury for help with molecular biology experiments and S. Kreger for technical assistance. S.P. acknowledges access to the infrastructure of the Cryo-EM Network at Heidelberg University (HDcryoNET) and support by G. Hofhaus and D. Flemming. S.P. also acknowledges the services SDS@hd and bwHPC supported by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg. F.C., S.F., H.-C.H. and J.S. are members of the Heidelberg Biosciences International Graduate School (HBIGS). We acknowledge financial support by a fellowship of the Deutsche Studienstiftung to J.S. and by grants of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) to B.B. (SFB1036), C.A.P.J. (SFB1036) and G.K. (KR 3593/2-1), of the European Research Council to B.B. (ERC Advanced Grant 743118) and of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the NIH (R01 NS102414) to C.A.P.J. S.P. acknowledges funding by the Aventis Foundation and the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



F.C. performed most biochemical and molecular genetic work, together with H.X., H.-C.H. and J.V. S.F. performed all cryo-EM and structure analysis work, with help from F.W.H. P.R.P. developed the Ala-PIRHification method and performed analyses with help from F.C. J.S., G.K. and B.B. assisted with sucrose gradient fractionation and disome analyses. K.H. performed bioinformatic analyses of bacterial genomes and protein domains. S.P. and C.A.P.J. designed studies and conceived and supervised the project. C.A.P.J., S.P., S.F. and F.C. wrote the manuscript. C.A.P.J., G.K., B.B. and S.P. acquired funding. All authors edited and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Stefan Pfeffer or Claudio A. P. Joazeiro.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature thanks Vasili Hauryliuk, Yury Polikanov and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Cryo-EM data processing scheme.

a, Two datasets were acquired and processed separately using Relion. To reject false-positive particles, auto-picked particles were subjected to a 3D classification. A subset of 50S depicting particles from dataset 1 was subjected to 3D auto-refinement. b, To enrich for collided disomes, 70S depicting particles were subsequently subjected to multiple rounds of 3D classification using a spherical mask with a diameter of 435 Å (dataset 1) or focused on the 30S subunit of the collided disome (dataset 2). After the first round of classification particles were merged. c, Particles of collided disomes were re-extracted centered on the leading and the colliding ribosome. 3D auto-refinements were focused on the 30S subunit or the full 70S of the respective ribosome. d, MutS2 conformations were sorted by two rounds of 3D classification using a mask encompassing the MutS2-homodimer. To increase local resolution for the MustS2-A clamp domain, the two separate conformations were merged and subjected to 3D auto-refinements based on either the leading or the colliding ribosome. e, To enrich for particles that depict collided trisomes, particles from collided disomes centered on the collided ribosome were subjected to a 3D classification focused on the third ribosome. Retained particles were re-extracted centered on the third ribosome (Collided 2) and subjected to 3D auto-refinement.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Structural similarity between the predicted MutS2 structure and the X-ray structure of a bacterial MutS protein.

a, Overall structures of B. subtilis MutS2 (this study) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae MutS (PDB 5X9W). Segments of MutS2 that were not resolved by cryo-EM, including the KOW and SMR domains, are shown in grey for one monomer as predicted by AlphaFold. bf, Superposition of the two models with respect to the ATPase domain (b), the individual MutS clamp and lever domains (c, d) and all conserved segments of the individual monomer structures (e, f). Dashed boxes indicate the zoomed area for panels b–f.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Global and local resolution estimation.

For each 3D auto-refinement run, densities have been colored according to local resolution. Mask-corrected Fourier shell correlation (FSC) has been calculated between two independently refined half-sets of the data (‘gold standard’; FSC threshold at 0.143). Shown particle sets are “Collided Disomes” (a, b, c, d,), “+MutS2” (g, h), MutS2 conformation 1 and 2 (respectively e, f) and 50S subunits obstructed with a nascent chain-linked P-site tRNA (i). Particles are either centered on the leading (a, b, e, f, g) or on the colliding ribosome (c, d, h) and refined using either a 30S (a, c) or a 70S mask of the respective ribosome (b, d, e, f, g, h)

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 Molecular details of contacts stabilizing the disome interface.

a, The 30S subunit heads interact via complementary charged patches on uS9 of the leading ribosome and uS10 of the collided ribosome (‘head contact’). Surface representations for uS9 and uS10 are shown and colored according to electrostatic potential (blue: positive, red: negative, white: neutral). The interacting patches are indicated. b, On the opposing side of the inter-ribosomal mRNA trajectory, helix 25 of the leading ribosome 30S subunit rRNA is accommodated in a groove on the 30S subunit of the collided ribosome formed by uS2 and uS8 (‘body contact’). In particular, helix 25 of the leading ribosome directly interacts with a surface exposed α-helix (Leu43 - Glu63) and the partially unordered C-terminus of uS2 of the collided ribosome. c, In close proximity, two additional contacts between the two collided ribosomes (‘platform contacts’) complete the network of interactions clustered around the mRNA entry and exit sites. First, the L1-stalk adopting an extreme out-conformation on the leading ribosome directly contacts the 30S subunit rRNA of the collided ribosome. Second, uS11 of the leading ribosome contacts uS4 of the collided ribosome, mainly via hydrophobic interactions (Val14 and Ile18 of S11; Val157 and Gly23 of S4) and aromatic stacking (His40 of S11; Phe160 of S4). d, A more peripheral interaction is mediated by ribosomal protein bL9 of the leading ribosome (‘bL9 contact’). e, The binding site of bL9 on the B. subtilis 50S subunit has been significantly remodeled compared to the E. coli ribosome66 (PDB 6BY1). While the interaction area between bL28 and the N-terminal half of bL9 is reduced in B. subtilis, this is compensated by an expansion of the 50S subunit rRNA (helix 15), which together with the L1-stalk forms an extended binding groove for bL9.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Structural and compositional remodeling of the mRNA exit site on the leading ribosome.

a, Upper panel: Trajectory of unstrained mRNA exiting the mRNA channel in a defined direction to interact with the anti-Shine-Dalgarno (SD) rRNA sequence of the 16S rRNA 3’end, thereby forming an RNA duplex reminiscent of the SD helix during translation initiation31 (PDB 3J9W, EMDB 6306). Middle panel: The unstrained mRNA exiting the collided ribosome interacts with the anti-SD rRNA to form an RNA duplex. Bottom panel: In the collided disome, the mRNA under strain follows a vastly different trajectory, which is accompanied by remarkable structural remodeling of the mRNA exit site of the leading ribosome. In particular, the rRNA anti-SD sequence of the leading ribosome can no longer interact with the mRNA and becomes disordered, which renders the binding site for the bS21 C-terminus on the leading ribosome accessible and at the same time reduces the interaction surface for uS2 on the 30S subunit. Superposition: Superposition of mRNAs exiting the ribosomes and the respective SD-helices in the translating and collided ribosomes, as well as bS21 in the leading ribosome. b, Comparison of uS2 density in the leading and collided ribosomes at the same density threshold level. In all panels, local resolution filtered densities based on 3D auto-refinements focused on either the 30S or the 70S of the respective ribosome are shown (See Extended Data Fig. 1).

Extended Data Fig. 6 The C-terminal half of bL9 sterically excludes binding of EF-G on the collided ribosome.

a, Binding site of bL9 on the 30S subunit of the collided ribosome. b, Atomic model and simulated density of EF-G63 (PDB 7N2V) mapped onto the 30S subunit of the collided ribosome by fitting the 30S-EF-G complex as a rigid body. Overlapping segments of bL9 and EF-G are shown in transparent grey. c, As in ‘b’, but not showing the EF-G atomic model and with overlapping segments of bL9 and EF-G colored in purple.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Conformational plasticity of the MutS2-B clamp region.

a, Two views on the local resolution-filtered density of the MutS2 dimer after 3D auto-refinement of all MutS2-containing particles. Highly fragmented density for the MutS2-B clamp and lever domains (left panel) indicated conformational heterogeneity. b, c, Computational particle sorting focused on MutS2-B produced two structurally distinct subpopulations slightly differing in the positioning of the MutS-domains III and IV, in which the clamp region either binds to ribosomal protein L5 (b) or the nascent chain-associated P-site tRNA of the leading ribosome (c). d, Overlay of the two conformations from ‘b’ and ‘c’. In all panels, local resolution-filtered cryo-EM densities are shown as obtained after 3D autorefinement centered on the leading ribosome using either all MutS2-containing particles (ribosome densities in all panels, MutS2 density in panel A) or using only particles representing one of the two different MutS2 conformations (MutS2 density in panels b, c).

Extended Data Fig. 8 Conformational plasticity of the A-site finger during the translational elongation cycle.

a-c, Atomic models for rRNA, tRNAs and ribosomal protein uL5. a, The leading ribosome of the B. subtilis collided disome. b, The E. coli ribosome in accommodation state IV-A64 (PDB 6WDB). c, The pre-translocation state VI-B64 (PDB 6WDG). d, Superposition of the structures shown in (a-c) according to ribosomal protein uL5, demonstrating remodeling of the MutS2-A binding site during the translation elongation cycle.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Structure of the 50S ribosomal subunit obstructed with a nascent chain-linked P-site tRNA.

a, Local resolution-filtered cryo-EM density of the 50S ribosomal subunit obstructed with the nascent chain-linked P-site tRNA. Due to conformational flexibility, cryo-EM density for peripheral segments of the P-site tRNA is fragmented. b, Density was sliced open to allow for an unobstructed view on the P-site tRNA and the associated incomplete nascent chain. c, Model of a nascent chain-linked P-site tRNA36 (PDB 7AQC) superposed to the cryo-EM density. Zoom on the CCA-tail of the P-site-tRNA with linked nascent chain.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Evidence from genomic analyses link mutSB and rqcH.

a, mutSB and rqcH strongly co-occur. Distribution of rqcH and mutSB quantitated separately for the indicated bacterial phyla. Both absolute numbers and frequencies are presented. For the latter, the higher the frequency the darker the background red color. b, mutSB localizes in the vicinity of rqcH in diverse bacteria. Genes are represented by arrows reflecting the direction of transcription, with mutSB and rqcH indicated in blue and red, respectively. In the instances where mutSB and rqcH are separated by genes represented as grey arrows, those genes are highly diverse, have no obvious relationship to translational quality control, and are generally unrelated between different species.

Extended Data Fig. 11 Model for MutS2 function in sensing ribosome collisions and eliciting downstream responses.

The model depicts, from top to bottom: ribosomes translating an mRNA with a stalling site within the open reading frame (“Translation”); the leading ribosome becoming stalled (“Internal stalling”); a trailing ribosome colliding with the stalled ribosome (“Ribosomal collision”); MutS2 sensing the collision and promoting both separation of the ribosomal subunits (“Ribosome splitting”) and endonucleolytic cleavage (“mRNA cleavage”). Left side: Ribosomal splitting generates a 50S subunit still obstructed with a nascent chain-tRNA conjugate, which is sensed by RqcH and RqcP, resulting in elongation of the nascent chain with a C-terminal Ala tail (“Ala tailing”). Nascent-chain release is accompanied by 50S recycling (“Ribosome recycling”, dotted line). Right side: mRNA cleavage can result in mRNA decay (dotted line) or in trailing ribosomes becoming stalled at the mRNA 3’end, which are sensed by SsrA/tmRNA. The SsrA reaction leads to ribosome recycling (“Ribosome recycling”, dotted line) and to nascent-chain modification with a C-terminal SsrA tag (“SsrA tagging”). Both Ala-tails and the SsrA tag act as degrons, recognized by ClpXP and other proteases (“Proteolysis”). See the main text for additional details. Objects: the mRNA is shown in red, with a stalling site within the open reading frame represented by ‘!’ within a triangle and the mRNA stop codon shown as a ‘Stop’ traffic sign; the direction of translation is indicated by arrows; the stalled ribosome is shown in orange (light, 50S subunit; dark, 30S subunit); trailing and collided ribosomes are shown in green (dark, 50S subunit; light, 30S subunit). Quality control factors are indicated by their names.

Extended Data Table 1 Cryo-EM data collection, refinement and validation statistics.

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Cerullo, F., Filbeck, S., Patil, P.R. et al. Bacterial ribosome collision sensing by a MutS DNA repair ATPase paralogue. Nature 603, 509–514 (2022).

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