Cellular mRNAs in plants and animals have a 5′-cap structure that is accepted as the recognition point to initiate translation by ribosomes. Consequently, it was long assumed that the translation initiation apparatus was built solely for a cap-dependent (CD) mechanism. Exceptions that emerged invoke structural damage (proteolytic cleavage) to eukaryotic initiation factor 4 (eIF4) factors that disable cap recognition. The residual eIF4 complex is thought to be crippled, but capable of cap-independent (CI) translation to recruit viral or death-associated mRNAs begrudgingly when cells are in great distress. However, situations where CI translation coexists with CD translation are now known. In such cases, CI translation is still a minor mechanism in the major background of CD synthesis. In this review, I propose that germ cells do not fit this mold. Using observations from various animal models of oogenesis and spermatogenesis, I suggest that CI translation is a robust partner to CD translation to carry out the translational control that is so prevalent in germ cell development. Evidence suggests that CI translation provides surveillance of germ cell homeostasis, while CD translation governs the regulated protein synthesis that ushers these meiotic cells through the remarkable steps in sperm/oocyte differentiation.
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