Gene Regulation and Systems Biology

Transcription Initiation by Mix and Match Elements: Flexibility for Polymerase Binding to Bacterial Promoters

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Gene Regulation and Systems Biology 2007:1 275-293

Published on 17 Dec 2007

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India G. Hook-Barnard and Deborah M. Hinton

Gene Expression and Regulation Section, Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bldg. 8 Room 2A-13, Bethesda, MD 20892-0830.


Bacterial RNA polymerase is composed of a core of subunits (β, β′, α1, α2, ω), which have RNA synthesizing activity, and a specificity factor (σ), which identifies the start of transcription by recognizing and binding to sequence elements within promoter DNA. Four core promoter consensus sequences, the –10 element, the extended –10 (TGn) element, the –35 element, and the UP elements, have been known for many years; the importance of a nontemplate G at position –5 has been recognized more recently. However, the functions of these elements are not the same. The AT-rich UP elements, the −35 elements (−35TTGACA−30), and the extended −10 (−15TGn−13) are recognized as double-stranded binding elements, whereas the −5 nontemplate G is recognized in the context of single-stranded DNA at the transcription bubble. Furthermore, the −10 element (−12TATAAT−7) is recognized as both double-stranded DNA for the T:A bp at position –12 and as nontemplate, single-stranded DNA from positions –11 to −7. The single-stranded sequences at positions −11 to –7 as well as the –5 contribute to later steps in transcription initiation that involve isomerization of polymerase and separation of the promoter DNA around the transcription start site. Recent work has demonstrated that the double-stranded elements may be used in various combinations to yield an effective promoter. Thus, while some minimal number of contacts is required for promoter function, polymerase allows the elements to be mixed and matched. Interestingly, which particular elements are used does not appear to fundamentally alter the transcription bubble generated in the stable complex. In this review, we discuss the multiple steps involved in forming a transcriptionally competent polymerase/promoter complex, and we examine what is known about polymerase recognition of core promoter elements. We suggest that considering promoter elements according to their involvement in early (polymerase binding) or later (polymerase isomerization) steps in transcription initiation rather than simply from their match to conventional promoter consensus sequences is a more instructive form of promoter classification.




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