What is tRNA?

Transfer RNA or tRNA is a short RNA molecule with the function of assisting in the protein synthesis in a cell. It has two important sections, a region that attaches with particular amino acid and a trinucleotide which is commonly called an anticodon. During a translation process, whenever an amino acid adds to a growing protein chain, a transfer RNA molecule forms the base pairs to add its complementary sequence to the messenger RNA (mRNA) in order to ensure that the right amino acid attaches to the protein molecule.

The tRNA full form is transfer RNA. As per its structural features, it forms the link between the transcription and the translation of the RNA during protein synthesis. Its anticodon end matches with the respective codon in the mRNA molecules. During this process, the tRNA carries the specific amino acids that are supposed to attach according to the codon encoding.


Structure and Functions of tRNA  

There are different types of RNA molecules present in a cell with distinct functions. One such kind is tRNA. It helps in the synthesis of protein by assisting mRNA in the process. Previously, it was known as sRNA or soluble RNA. It has several functions that we will discuss in this article along with its structural significance.


Structure of tRNA

A tRNA molecule contains 76-90 nucleotide molecules. As per the tRNA structure, each of them defines a specific amino acid. It means that a type of this RNA will carry only a specific amino acid to attach with the codon part of mRNA for protein synthesis.

The stop codons present in the mRNA will not be attached to the tRNA for amino acid transfer. Only this codon signals the stopping of a polypeptide chain synthesis and the release of the synthesized polypeptide in the cellular system. The rest of the codons have specific anticodons. These anticodons are trinucleotide regions of the tRNA that attaches with the particular codons for amino acid transfer.


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The tRNA structure is of two types. Its secondary structure resembles a cloverleaf whereas the tertiary structure resembles the L letter in inverted format. The folds in the structures occur due to the hydrogen bonds occurring between the complementary bases present in the molecule. Let us discuss the structures in an elaborate way.

The secondary shape of the tRNA structure is made of three hairpin-resembling loops. This is why it looks like a cloverleaf. The prime constituents of a tRNA molecule are:

  1. Acceptor Arm

The acceptor arm is formed from the base pairing of 7 to 9 nucleotides 3’ and 5’ terminals. The 3’ end has a specific CCA sequence that forms the CCA tail. The 5’ terminal comprises a phosphate group.

The aminoacylation of tRNA happens in the 3’ terminal right at the hydroxyl group. It is also called the first step or the initiation of the translation process. The catalysis of this reaction occurs due to the influence of the aminoacyl tRNA synthetase enzyme.

This process is also called the charging of tRNA. It refers to the attachment of a unit of amino acid to the tRNA molecule using the aminoacyl transferase enzyme. During this binding process, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is bonded with an amino acid molecule to form AMP-amino acid and PP. The latter is formed as a byproduct and is used later. It is then the aminoacyl transferase enzyme binds the AMP-amino acid with the 3’ terminal hydroxyl group of tRNA.

  1. DHU Loop

This is the D-shaped loop containing dihydrouridine (DHU) in the form of a modified nucleotide. It is the D-arm with 3 to 4 base pairs present in every tRNA molecule.

  1. Anticodon Loop

It is a loop made of 5 nucleotide base pairs. The long stem contains a complementary sequence made of 3 nucleotides that match the specific mRNA codons. This codon sequence signifies what amino acid needs to be carried by the tRNA. It is these unpaired anticodon bases that pair with the specific bases of a codon in mRNA. This is why every tRNA has a unique identification decided by the respective mRNA.

  1. TΨC Loop

The TΨC Loop is the T-arm stem consisting of 4 to 5 base pairs creating a loop. It also contains pseudouridine, another type of modified uridine. This loop remains nearest to the 3’ terminal. It is thought that this loop interacts with the ribosomal RNA.

  1. Variable Loop

This variable loop is present right between the anticodon loop and the TΨC loop. The size of this variable loop varies from 3 to 21 base pairs. This part of the tRNA molecule helps in recognizing its pattern and type.


Function of tRNA

  • The prime function of tRNA is to transfer amino acids to form the right sequence of the polypeptides. Hence, it assists protein synthesis.

  • It also functions as an adapter molecule to link specific amino acids to the respective codons located in the mRNA molecules.

  • Every amino acid defines a particular tRNA. It means that the carriage and transfer of amino acids will not possible without those tRNAs.

  • The decoding process of the mRNA continues until the stop codon is reached and not recognized by any of the tRNAs.

This is what you need to know about the structure of this RNA and the tRNA translation process. Understand the complex structure of this transfer RNA molecule and learn how it assists in adding amino acids to the polypeptide chain to build specific proteins. Consider referring to a tRNA diagram to understand the significance of its different sections and base-pair sequences.

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FAQs on Transfer RNA

1.What is the difference between tRNA and mRNA?

Now that we know what is tRNA, we can easily conclude that the tRNA is the carrier of amino acids whereas the mRNA is the messenger between proteins and genes. tRNA carries the amino acids to the ribosome for the synthesis of polypeptides. In other words, mRNA is a complementary strand that is a perfect replica a DNA strand present in a particular section of a gene whereas tRNA is responsible for the transfer of specific peptides for the formation of proteins.

2.What is aminoacylation?

In general, aminoacylation is a reaction where an aminoacyl group is attached to a compound in certain circumstances. In genetics, when an amino acid molecule attaches with the 3’ terminal of the specific tRNA in presence of the aminoacyl tRNA synthetase, it is called aminoacylation. This process occurs within a cell where a ribosome can transfer specific peptides to a growing chain of a protein with help of a tRNA. All the steps according to a specific genetic code.


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