The interaction of biological macromolecules is a fundamental attribute of cellular life. Proteins, in particular, often form stable complexes with one another. Although the importance of protein complexes is widely recognized, we still have only a very limited understanding of the mechanisms underlying their assembly within cells. In this article, we review the available evidence for one such mechanism, namely the coupling of protein complex assembly to translation at the polysome. We discuss research showing that co-translational assembly can occur in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms and can have important implications for the correct functioning of the complexes that result. Co-translational assembly can occur for both homomeric and heteromeric protein complexes and for both proteins that are translated directly into the cytoplasm and those that are translated into or across membranes. Finally, we discuss the properties of proteins that are most likely to be associated with co-translational assembly.

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