Eukaryotic initiation factor eIF-2B catalyses the exchange of guanine nucleotides on another translation initiation factor, eIF-2, which itself mediates the binding of the initiator Met-tRNA to the 40S ribosomal subunit during translation initiation. eIF-2B promotes the release of GDP from inactive [eIF-2.GDP] complexes, thus allowing formation of the active [eIF-2.GTP] species which subsequently binds the Met-tRNA. This guanine nucleotide-exchange step, and thus eIF-2B activity, are known to be an important control point for translation initiation. The activity of eIF-2B can be modulated in several ways. The best characterised of these involves the phosphorylation of the alpha-subunit of eIF-2 by specific protein kinases regulated by particular ligands. Phosphorylation of eIF-2 alpha leads to inhibition of eIF-2B. This mechanism is involved in the control of translation under a variety of conditions, including amino acid deprivation in yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) where it causes translational upregulation of the transcription factor GCN4, and in virus-infected animal cells, where it involves a protein kinase activated by double-stranded RNA. There is now also growing evidence for direct regulation of eIF-2B. This appears likely to involve the phosphorylation of its largest subunit. Under certain circumstances eIF-2B may also be regulated by allosteric mechanisms. eIF-2B is a heteropentamer (subunits termed alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon) and is thus more complex than most other guanine nucleotide-exchange factors. The genes encoding all five subunits have been cloned in yeast (exploiting the GCN4 regulatory system): all but the alpha appear to be essential for eIF-2B activity. However, this subunit may confer sensitivity to eIF-2 alpha phosphorylation. cDNAs encoding the alpha, beta, delta and epsilon subunits have been cloned from mammalian sources. There is substantial homology between the yeast and mammalian sequences. Attention is now directed towards understanding the roles of individual subunits in the function and regulation of eIF-2B.
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