N-terminal alanine-rich (NTAR) sequences drive precise start codon selection resulting in elevated translation of multiple proteins including ERK1/2.

Initiation of translation is essential for protein synthesis. A crucial step is the correct choice of the start AUG, which leads to the production of the fully functional polypeptide. To date, nucleotide composition next to the AUG has been considered the only determinant of start codon selection. Our work identifies a large family of proteins whose start codon choice is determined by an N-terminal alanine-rich sequence (NTAR) that enables efficient protein translation. Many of these proteins are encoded by housekeeping genes. Among them, the NTARs of the pivotal kinases ERK1 and ERK2 are highly optimized in humans, shaping ERK signal transduction by increasing the kinase quantity. Our findings could be useful for applied biology, especially for mRNA-based therapeutics.