Translation initiation in eukaryotes is a highly regulated and rate-limiting process. It results in the assembly and disassembly of numerous transient and intermediate complexes involving over a dozen eukaryotic initiation factors (eIFs). This process culminates in the accommodation of a start codon marking the beginning of an open reading frame at the appropriate ribosomal site. Although this process has been extensively studied by hundreds of groups for nearly half a century, it has been only recently, especially during the last decade, that we have gained deeper insight into the mechanics of the eukaryotic translation initiation process. This advance in knowledge is due in part to the contributions of structural biology, which have shed light on the molecular mechanics underlying the different functions of various eukaryotic initiation factors. In this review, we focus exclusively on the contribution of structural biology to the understanding of the eukaryotic initiation process, a long-standing jigsaw puzzle that is just starting to yield the bigger picture.
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