Drosophila X-Linked Genes Have Lower Translation Rates than Autosomal Genes

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In Drosophila, X-linked and autosomal genes achieve comparable expression at the mRNA level. Whether comparable X-autosome gene expression is realized at the translational and, ultimately, the protein levels is, however, unknown. Previous studies suggest the possibility of higher translation rates for X-linked genes owing to stronger usage of preferred codons. In this study, we use public ribosome profiling data from Drosophila melanogaster to infer translation rates on the X chromosome versus the autosomes. We find that X-linked genes have consistently lower ribosome densities than autosomal genes in S2 cells, early embryos, eggs, and mature oocytes. Surprisingly, the lower ribosome densities of X-linked genes are not consistent with faster translation elongation but instead imply slower translation initiation. In particular, X-linked genes have sequence features known to slow translation initiation such as stronger mRNA structure near start codons and longer 5′-UTRs. Comparison to outgroup species suggests that stronger mRNA structure is an evolved feature of Drosophila X chromosomes. Finally, we find that the magnitude of the X-autosome difference in ribosome densities is smaller for genes encoding members of protein complexes, suggesting that stoichiometry constrains the evolution of translation rates. In sum, our analyses suggest that Drosophila X-linked genes have evolved lower translation rates than autosomal genes despite stronger usage of preferred codons.

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