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In Memory of Lev Ovchinnikov

Dmitry N. Lyabin1,a* and Eugenia V. Serebrova1

1Institute of Protein Research, Russian Academy of Sciences, 142290 Pushchino, Moscow Region, Russia

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received November 15, 2021; Revised November 15, 2021; Accepted November 16, 2021
Lev Ovchinnikov was a true man of Science. Until the end of his life, he retained not only loyalty to strict scientific principles, but also a benevolent attitude towards the people around him. He devoted his scientific career to the study of mRNP and regulation of protein biosynthesis. He created a unique scientific school that received international recognition.
KEY WORDS: mRNP, translational control, YB-1

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297922140012


Lev Pavlovich Ovchinnikov, an outstanding Russian scientist, a teacher to hundreds, a mentor to many, and a friend to all – passed away at the age of 77 on September 29, 2020. A severe disease robbed the Institute of Protein Research of a brilliant investigator and a great person.


Born in 1943, Lev Ovchinnikov became a student of the Lomonosov Moscow State University at the age of 17, and following graduation after five years of studying started his scientific carrier at the Bach Institute of Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, where he completed his doctoral thesis under the mentorship of Professor Alexander S. Spirin and was awarded his Ph. D. degree.

In 1968 Lev was offered a position in the newly created Institute of Protein Research (IPR) and joined the Laboratory of Protein Biosynthesis headed by Alexander Spirin. Since then, the whole life of Dr. Ovchinnikov was inseparable from this institution. His early works were on physicochemical properties of ribonucleoprotein particles, so-called RNPs or informosomes, their protein composition and occurrence in eukaryotes, and in vitro mRNP modeling [1-5]. For these studies, Dr. Ovchinnikov and colleagues were awarded the 1976 Lenin Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in Soviet Union.

In 1981, Dr. Ovchinnikov defended his Doctor of Science thesis and was appointed as a head of his own research group focused on regulation of protein biosynthesis. He remained the leader of this group until the very end of his life. His principles of leadership created a unique atmosphere of scientific freedom and mutual assistance in the group and resulted in many discoveries including regulatory mechanism of protein biosynthesis based on the changing degree of compartmentalization of translational regulatory proteins and effect of covalent modifications of the eukaryotic translation elongation factors on their affinity for RNA and on protein synthesis [6-16].

One of the visionary ideas suggested by Dr. Ovchinnikov was to address the role of cytoplasmic mRNP proteins in translational regulation. That started his life-long love affair with YB-1, the major structural protein of mRNPs [17-41]. Comprehensive studies of the properties and translational activities of YB-1 and its role in cancers and neuronal pathology made his name well-known in the world.

Achievements of Dr. Ovchinnikov were recognized in Russia: in 1997 he became a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and served at the Bureau of Biological Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences.

An outstanding biologist, Dr. Ovchinnikov was also a talented administrator: for many years he was Deputy Director (1988-2001) and then Director of the Institute of Protein Research (2001-2015) (figure).

Figure 1

Lev Pavlovich Ovchinnikov

Contribution of Dr. Ovchinnikov to education of young scientists cannot be overestimated. He was the founder of the IPR Education Center and a long-term lecturer on protein biosynthesis regulation there; many students and postgraduates did their B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph. D. dissertations under his mentorship; and for more than three decades, he was a distinguished Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at Lomonosov Moscow State University.

Lev Ovchinnikov was an amazingly open, sympathetic, and good-natured person ready to share the most entertaining stories about his fishing and hiking trips. A demanding leader could easily turn into a smiling and supportive teacher and a loyal friend. Regardless all his titles and high station in life, Lev was a humble person willing to admit his mistakes. People sought his advice and benefited from his council. He dearly loved life; he was sure that any problem has a solution if you put enough efforts to work it out. Until the very end, he retained clear mind and a desire to learn new things.

For many years Lev Ovchinnikov has been a professional and moral guide for several generations of his students, a shining beacon in the stormy sea of Russian science. All of us, his colleagues and friends, will do our best to develop further his scientific ideas, preserve his unfailing work ethic and life principles, and gratefully remember his intellectual generosity and freedom, depth and humanity.

This issue of Biochemistry includes reviews by students and colleagues of Lev Pavlovich Ovchinnikov.

Ethics declarations. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


1.Ovchinnikov, L. P., Belitsina, N. V., Avanesov, A., and Spirin, A. S. (1969) Postribosomal RNA-containing particles of cytoplasm of animal cells according to CsCl density gradient centrifugation data, Dokl Akad Nauk SSSR, 186, 1202-1205.
2.Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Spirin, A. S. (1970) Ribonucleoprotein particles in cytoplasmic extracts of animal cells, Naturwissenschaften, 57, 514-521, doi: 10.1007/BF00625317.
3.Stepanov, A. S., Voronina, A. S., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Spirin, A. S. (1971) RNA-binding protein factor of animal cell extracts, FEBS Lett., 18, 13-18, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(71)80395-2.
4.Voronina, A. S., Stepanov, A. S., Preobrazhenskii, A. A., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1972) Protein RNA-binding factor of animal cell extracts. Characteristics of informosome-like particles and reactions of their formation, Biokhimiia, 37, 430-436.
5.Preobrazhensky, A. A., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1974) RNA-binding protein from rabbit reticulocyte extract, FEBS Lett., 41, 233-237, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(74)81219-6.
6.Ovchinnikov, L. P., Spirin, A. S., Erni, B., and Staehelin, T. (1978) RNA-binding proteins of rabbit reticulocytes contain the two elongation factors and some of the initiation factors of translation, FEBS Lett., 88, 21-26, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(78)80598-5.
7.Alzhanova, A. T., Fedorov, A. N., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Spirin, A. S. (1980) Eukaryotic aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases are RNA-binding proteins whereas prokaryotic ones are not, FEBS Lett., 120, 225-229, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(80)80303-6.
8.Alzhanova, A. T., Fedorov, A. N., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1982) Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases of rabbit reticulocytes with and without the ability to bind high-Mr RNA, FEBS Lett., 144, 149-153, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(82)80589-9.
9.Davydova, E. K., Sitikov, A. S., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1984) Phosphorylation of elongation factor 1 in polyribosome fraction of rabbit reticulocytes, FEBS Lett., 176, 401-405, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(84)81206-5.
10.Sitikov, A. S., Davydova, E. K., Bezlepkina, T. A., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Spirin, A. S. (1984) Eukaryotic elongation factor 2 loses its non-specific affinity for RNA and leaves polyribosomes as a result of ADP-ribosylation, FEBS Lett., 176, 406-410, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(84)81207-7.
11.Sitikov, A. S., Davydova, E. K., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1984) Endogenous ADP-ribosylation of elongation factor 2 in polyribosome fraction of rabbit reticulocytes, FEBS Lett., 176, 261-263, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(84)80953-9.
12.Fedorov, A. N., Al’zhanova, A. T., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1985) Association of eukaryotic aminoacyl-tRNA-synthases with polyribosomes, Biokhimiia, 50, 1639-1645.
13.Ryazanov, A. G., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Spirin, A. S. (1987) Development of structural organization of protein-synthesizing machinery from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, BioSystems, 20, 275-288, doi: 10.1016/0303-2647(87)90035-9.
14.Sitikov, A. S., Simonenko, P. N., Shestakova, E. A., Ryazanov, A. G., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1988) cAMP-dependent activation of protein synthesis correlates with dephosphorylation of elongation factor 2, FEBS Lett., 228, 327-331, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(88)80025-5.
15.Davydova, E. K., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1990) ADP-ribosylated elongation factor 2 (ADP-ribosyl-EF-2) is unable to promote translocation within the ribosome, FEBS Lett., 261, 350-352, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(90)80589-b.
16.Ovchinnikov, L. P., Motuz, L. P., Natapov, P. G., Averbuch, L. J., Wettenhall, R. E., et al. (1990) Three phosphorylation sites in elongation factor 2, FEBS Lett., 275, 209-212, doi: 10.1016/0014-5793(90)81473-2.
17.Minich, W. B., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1992) Role of cytoplasmic mRNP proteins in translation, Biochimie, 74, 477-483, doi: 10.1016/0300-9084(92)90088-v.
18.Minich, W. B., Maidebura, I. P., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1993) Purification and characterization of the major 50-kDa repressor protein from cytoplasmic mRNP of rabbit reticulocytes, Eur. J. Biochemistry, 212, 633-638, doi: 10.1111/j.1432-1033.1993.tb17701.x.
19.Evdokimova, V. M., Wei, C. L., Sitikov, A. S., Simonenko, P. N., Lazarev, O. A., et al. (1995) The major protein of messenger ribonucleoprotein particles in somatic cells is a member of the Y-box binding transcription factor family, J. Biol. Chem., 270, 3186-3192, doi: 10.1074/jbc.270.7.3186.
20.Svitkin, Y. V., Ovchinnikov, L. P., Dreyfuss, G., and Sonenberg, N. (1996) General RNA binding proteins render translation cap dependent, EMBO J., 15, 7147-7155.
21.Davydova, E. K., Evdokimova, V. M., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Hershey, J. W. (1997) Overexpression in COS cells of p50, the major core protein associated with mRNA, results in translation inhibition, Nucleic Acids Res., 25, 2911-2916, doi: 10.1093/nar/25.14.2911.
22.Ruzanov, P. V., Evdokimova, V. M., Korneeva, N. L., Hershey, J. W., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (1999) Interaction of the universal mRNA-binding protein, p50, with actin: a possible link between mRNA and microfilaments, J. Cell Sci., 112 (Pt. 20), 3487-3496.
23.Evdokimova, V., Ruzanov, P., Imataka, H., Raught, B., Svitkin, Y., et al. (2001) The major mRNA-associated protein YB-1 is a potent 5′ cap-dependent mRNA stabilizer, EMBO J., 20, 5491-5502, doi: 10.1093/emboj/20.19.5491.
24.Skabkin, M. A., Evdokimova, V., Thomas, A. A., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (2001) The major messenger ribonucleoprotein particle protein p50 (YB-1) promotes nucleic acid strand annealing, J. Biol. Chem., 276, 44841-44847, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M107581200.
25.Nekrasov, M. P., Ivshina, M. P., Chernov, K. G., Kovrigina, E. A., Evdokimova, V. M., et al. (2003) The mRNA-binding protein YB-1 (p50) prevents association of the eukaryotic initiation factor eIF4G with mRNA and inhibits protein synthesis at the initiation stage, J. Biol. Chem., 278, 13936-13943, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M209145200.
26.Skabkin, M. A., Kiselyova, O. I., Chernov, K. G., Sorokin, A. V., Dubrovin, E. V., et al. (2004) Structural organization of mRNA complexes with major core mRNP protein YB-1, Nucleic Acids Res., 32, 5621-5635, doi: 10.1093/nar/gkh889.
27.Skabkina, O. V., Lyabin, D. N., Skabkin, M. A., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (2005) YB-1 autoregulates translation of its own mRNA at or prior to the step of 40S ribosomal subunit joining, Mol. Cell. Biol., 25, 3317-3323, doi: 10.1128/MCB.25.8.3317-3323.2005.
28.Sorokin, A. V., Selyutina, A. A., Skabkin, M. A., Guryanov, S. G., Nazimov, I. V., Richard, C., Th'ng, J., Yau, J., Sorensen, P. H., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Evdokimova, V. (2005) Proteasome-mediated cleavage of the Y-box-binding protein 1 is linked to DNA-damage stress response, EMBO J., 24, 3602-3612, doi: 10.1038/sj.emboj.7600830.
29.Evdokimova, V., Ruzanov, P., Anglesio, M. S., Sorokin, A. V., Ovchinnikov, L. P., et al. (2006) Akt-mediated YB-1 phosphorylation activates translation of silent mRNA species, Mol. Cell. Biol., 26, 277-292, doi: 10.1128/MCB.26.1.277-292.2006.
30.Chernov, K. G., Mechulam, A., Popova, N. V., Pastre, D., Nadezhdina, E. S., et al. (2008) YB-1 promotes microtubule assembly in vitro through interaction with tubulin and microtubules, BMC Biochemistry, 9, 23, doi: 10.1186/1471-2091-9-23.
31.Eliseeva, I. A., Kim, E. R., Guryanov, S. G., Ovchinnikov, L. P., and Lyabin, D. N. (2011) Y-box-binding protein 1 (YB-1) and its functions, Biochemistry (Moscow), 76, 1402-1433, doi: 10.1134/S0006297911130049.
32.Lyabin, D. N., Eliseeva, I. A., Skabkina, O. V., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (2011) Interplay between Y-box-binding protein 1 (YB-1) and poly(A) binding protein (PABP) in specific regulation of YB-1 mRNA translation, RNA Biol., 8, 883-892, doi: 10.4161/rna.8.5.16022.
33.Guryanov, S. G., Selivanova, O. M., Nikulin, A. D., Enin, G. A., Melnik, B. S., et al. (2012) Formation of amyloid-like fibrils by Y-box binding protein 1 (YB-1) is mediated by its cold shock domain and modulated by disordered terminal domains, PLoS One, 7, e36969, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036969.
34.Lyabin, D. N., Eliseeva, I. A., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (2012) YB-1 synthesis is regulated by mTOR signaling pathway, PLoS One, 7, e52527, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052527.
35.Guryanov, S. G., Filimonov, V. V., Timchenko, A. A., Melnik, B. S., Kihara, H., et al. (2013) The major mRNP protein YB-1: structural and association properties in solution, Biochim. Biophys. Acta, 1834, 559-567, doi: 10.1016/j.bbapap.2012.11.007.
36.Kim, E. R., Selyutina, A. A., Buldakov, I. A., Evdokimova, V., Ovchinnikov, L. P., et al. (2013) The proteolytic YB-1 fragment interacts with DNA repair machinery and enhances survival during DNA damaging stress, Cell Cycle, 12, 3791-3803, doi: 10.4161/cc.26670.
37.Lyabin, D. N., Eliseeva, I. A., and Ovchinnikov, L. P. (2014) YB-1 protein: functions and regulation, Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. RNA, 5, 95-110, doi: 10.1002/wrna.1200.
38.Kretov, D. A., Curmi, P. A., Hamon, L., Abrakhi, S., Desforges, B., et al. (2015) mRNA and DNA selection via protein multimerization: YB-1 as a case study, Nucleic Acids Res., 43, 9457-9473, doi: 10.1093/nar/gkv822.
39.Mordovkina, D. A., Kim, E. R., Buldakov, I. A., Sorokin, A. V., Eliseeva, I. A., et al. (2016) Transportin-1-dependent YB-1 nuclear import, Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun., 480, 629-634, doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2016.10.107.
40.Kretov, D. A., Clement, M. J., Lambert, G., Durand, D., Lyabin, D. N., et al. (2019) YB-1, an abundant core mRNA-binding protein, has the capacity to form an RNA nucleoprotein filament: a structural analysis, Nucleic Acids Res., 47, 3127-3141, doi: 10.1093/nar/gky1303.
41.Lyabin, D. N., Eliseeva, I. A., Smolin, E. A., Doronin, A. N., Budkina, K. S., et al. (2020) YB-3 substitutes YB-1 in global mRNA binding, RNA Biol., 17, 487-499, doi: 10.1080/15476286.2019.1710050.