Long Non-Stop Reading Frames on the Antisense Strand of Heat Shock Protein 70 Genes and Prion Protein (PrP) Genes Are Conserved between Species Academic Article uri icon


  • Several mammalian genes, including heat shock protein (Hsp70) and prion protein (PrP) genes, have been reported to have long open reading frames (ORFs) or non-stop reading frames (NRFs) in the antisense direction. A simple explanation would be that these long antisense reading frames, which are usually in the same triplet frame as the coding strand, are the fortuitous byproduct of a high overall [G+C] content with concomitant preference for G/C over A/T in the third codon position, a preference for RNY type codons (purine/any nucleotide/pyrimidine), and/or a bias against serine and leucine, the only amino acids with codons that can be read as stop codons in the antisense direction. The PrP genes and most heat shock genes with long antisense NRFs (aNRFs) are indeed relatively [G+C] rich but do not show a bias against serine and leucine. In several vertebrates investigated, at least one of the Hsp70 genes has a long antisense reading frame, and we found that some, though not all, putative stop codons in long Hsp70 antisense reading frames were due to sequencing errors. The PrP gene contains an extended antisense open reading frame in all 45 eutherian mammals tested, but not in a marsupial and in a bird. In the PrP gene, the long, protein-coding exon also harbors the antisense nonstop reading frame. In both Hsp70 and PrP genes, the putative antisense protein sequence is well conserved. Even though there is no clear evidence in Hsp70 or PrP genes for the existence of the respective antisense proteins, we speculate that such antisense proteins serve to regulate the genuine Hsp and PrP proteins under special circumstances. Alternatively, regulation might occur at the RNA level, and the antisense RNA would merely lack stop codons to prevent its rapid degradation by an mRNA quality control mechanism that is triggered by premature stop codons. We note that both Hsp and PrP are involved in physiological or pathological protein aggregation phenomena, that scrapie prions have been reported to modify the expression or localization of heat shock proteins, and that in yeast, propagation of a prion-like state (PSI+) depends on a heat shock (Hsp104) protein.


  • Rother, Kristina I
  • Clay, Oliver K
  • Bourquin, Jean-Pierre
  • Silke, John
  • Schaffner, Walter

publication date

  • January 1, 1997