Initiating translation of most eukaryotic mRNAs depends on recruitment of methionyl initiator tRNA (Met-tRNAi) in a ternary complex (TC) with GTP-bound eukaryotic initiation factor 2 (eIF2) to the small (40S) ribosomal subunit, forming a 43S preinitiation complex (PIC) that attaches to the mRNA and scans the 5'-untranslated region (5' UTR) for an AUG start codon. Previous studies have implicated mammalian eIF2A in GTP-independent binding of Met-tRNAi to the 40S subunit and its recruitment to specialized mRNAs that do not require scanning, and in initiation at non-AUG start codons, when eIF2 function is attenuated by phosphorylation of its α-subunit during stress. The role of eIF2A in translation in vivo is poorly understood however, and it was unknown whether the conserved ortholog in budding yeast can functionally substitute for eIF2. We performed ribosome profiling of a yeast deletion mutant lacking eIF2A and isogenic wild-type (WT) cells in the presence or absence of eIF2α phosphorylation induced by starvation for amino acids isoleucine and valine. Whereas starvation of WT confers changes in translational efficiencies (TEs) of hundreds of mRNAs, the eIF2AΔ mutation conferred no significant TE reductions for any mRNAs in non-starved cells, and it reduced the TEs of only a small number of transcripts in starved cells containing phosphorylated eIF2α. We found no evidence that eliminating eIF2A altered the translation of mRNAs containing putative internal ribosome entry site (IRES) elements, or harboring uORFs initiated by AUG or near-cognate start codons, in non-starved or starved cells. Thus, very few mRNAs (possibly only one) appear to employ eIF2A for Met-tRNAi recruitment in yeast cells, even when eIF2 function is attenuated by stress.

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