DNA transcription is the most important nexus of gene regulation in all living organisms. In recent years, single-molecule experiments have given us a new window into the mechanisms of transcription and have revealed novel, previously unsuspected molecular behaviors and mechanisms. Ph.D. student Tim Harden used multi-color single-molecule fluorescence imaging to reveal a completely new transcription cycle for bacterial RNA polymerase. Harden and co-authors showed that an RNA polymerase molecule in vitro frequently (in >90% of transcription events) remains bound to DNA and may again initiate transcription after it has terminated the first round of transcription. Even more unexpectedly, this “secondary initiation” is not restricted to the same RNA. After the first round, the polymerase can scan thousands of basepairs along the DNA and can initiate at a different start site, frequently one that is oriented in the opposite direction and produces an antisense transcript.
To complement the single-molecule studies in vitro, the manuscript reports new analyses of whole-transcriptome cellular RNAs revealed by the Rend-seq method that measures transcript initiation and termination frequencies across the genome with single basepair resolution. These provide evidence that the new transcription cycle may be responsible for initiating antisense transcription at hundreds of genomic locations in the two widely divergent bacterial species examined. The work defines a new mechanism for the regulated production of antisense RNAs, many of which are now recognized as important agents of gene-specific regulation through control of transcription, mRNA decay, and translation. In addition, the new transcription cycle provides a mechanism through which transcription initiation can be controlled not just through feedback networks involving multiple genes, but also through production of multiple different primary transcripts consequent to a single RNA polymerase-to-DNA recruitment event.
Harden, T.T., et al. Alternative transcription cycle for bacterial RNA polymerase.
Nature Communications 11, 450 (2020).
RNA polymerases contain a conserved “secondary channel” in which proteins that regulate transcription can bind. In Escherichia coli bacteria, the secondary channel factors (SCFs) GreB and DksA both repress initiation of ribosomal RNA synthesis, but SCF loading and repression mechanisms are unclear. Sarah Stumper and her collaborators used fluorescence correlation spectroscopy and multi-wavelength single-molecule fluorescence colocalization microscopy to show that the SCFs likely repress transcription through an interesting “delayed inhibition” mechanism in which the proteins arrive at DNA already complexed to RNA polymerase and block at a later stage of transcription initiation. The work explains factors that control the relative contributions of the two proteins to regulation and suggests a mechanism by which repression is restricted to ribosomal RNA and other promoters that form short-duration complexes with RNA polymerase.
Delayed inhibition mechanism for secondary channel factor regulation of ribosomal RNA transcription.
Stumper, S.K., Ravi, H., Friedman, L.J., Mooney, R.A., Corrêa, I.R., Gershenson, A., Landick, R., and Gelles, J.
eLife (2019) 8:e40576
In living cells, messenger RNAs are not manufactured by RNA polymerases (RNAPs) functioning alone. Instead, RNA synthesis is carried out collectively by RNAP together with accessory proteins that associate with the RNAP-containing transcription elongation complex and modulate its activity. In this paper, Larry Tetone, Larry Friedman, and Melissa Osborne, along with their collaborators from the Gelles and Landick labs, used multi-wavelength single-molecule fluorescence methods to for the first time directly observe the dynamic binding and dissociation of an accessory protein with an RNAP during active transcript elongation. The protein, GreB, is important for transcript proofreading in E. coli and other bacteria and is a functional analog of the TFIIS protein in eaukaryotes. “Unexpectedly,” the authors report, “GreB was not selectively recruited to RNAPs requiring its transcript proofreading function. Instead, GreB transiently bound to multiple types of complexes, eventually finding via random search RNAPs that require its activity. The observations suggest a paradigm by which a regulator can act while minimizing obstruction of a binding site that must be shared with other proteins.”
Dynamics of GreB-RNA polymerase interaction allow a proofreading accessory protein to patrol for transcription complexes needing rescue
Larry E. Tetone, Larry J. Friedman, Melisa L. Osborne, Harini Ravi, Scotty Kyzer, Sarah K. Stumper, Rachel A. Mooney, Robert Landick, and Jeff Gelles
PNAS (2017) 114:E1081-E1090.
New plasmids reported in this article can be obtained from Addgene