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Summary

We review how the expression of fungal mRNAs can be controlled by ribosome interactions with short upstream open reading frames (uORFs) within the 5′untranslated region. The efficiency of uAUG recognition modulates the impact of a uORF but steps during and after translation of the uORF also influence uORF function. The post-termination behaviour of ribosomes, therefore, plays a major role in determining the expression level of these main ORFs. Translation of a uORF can produce a cis-acting peptide that causes effector molecule-dependent stalling of the ribosomes at the end of the uORF. In other cases it is the length or position, or other features of the uORF, rather than the peptide it encodes, that determine the efficiency with which ribosomes reinitiate translation downstream of it. Whether the form of the ribosome that resumes scanning after termination is the 40S subunit alone or the entire 80S ribosome is not known. Translation of the uORF can also control gene expression by affecting the stability of the mRNA. Finally, trans-acting factors may participate in the regulatory mechanisms. Future work will need not only to provide more information on the mechanisms underlying the known cases of uORF-mediated control but also to define the full complement of uORF-containing mRNAs in at least one fungal organism.