Ribosomopathies are a group of human disorders most commonly caused by ribosomal protein haploinsufficiency or defects in ribosome biogenesis. These conditions manifest themselves as physiological defects in specific cell and tissue types. We review current molecular models to explain ribosomopathies and attempt to reconcile the tissue specificity of these disorders with the ubiquitous requirement for ribosomes in all cells. Ribosomopathies as a group are diverse in their origins and clinical manifestations; we use the well-described Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA) as a specific example to highlight some common features. We discuss ribosome homeostasis as an overarching principle that governs the sensitivity of specific cells and tissue types to ribosomal protein mutations. Mathematical models and experimental insights rationalize how even subtle shifts in the availability of ribosomes, such as those created by ribosome haploinsufficiency, can drive messenger RNA–specific effects on protein expression. We discuss recently identified roles played by ribosome rescue and recycling factors in regulating ribosome homeostasis.
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