Cellular RNA polymerases (RNAPs) are complex molecular machines that combine catalysis with concerted conformational changes in the active center. Previous work showed that kinking of a hinge region near the C-terminus of the Bridge Helix (BH-HC) plays a critical role in controlling the catalytic rate.
Here, new evidence for the existence of an additional hinge region in the amino-terminal portion of the Bridge Helix domain (BH-HN) is presented. The nanomechanical properties of BH-HN emerge as a direct consequence of the highly conserved primary amino acid sequence. Mutations that are predicted to influence its flexibility cause corresponding changes in the rate of the nucleotide addition cycle (NAC). BH-HN displays functional properties that are distinct from BH-HC, suggesting that conformational changes in the Bridge Helix control the NAC via two independent mechanisms.
The properties of two distinct molecular hinges in the Bridge Helix of RNAP determine the functional contribution of this domain to key stages of the NAC by coordinating conformational changes in surrounding domains.
During elongation, multi-subunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) cycle between phosphodiester bond formation and nucleic acid translocation. In the conformation associated with catalysis, the mobile “trigger loop” of the catalytic subunit closes on the nucleoside triphosphate (NTP) substrate. Closing of the trigger loop is expected to exclude water from the active site, and dehydration may contribute to catalysis and fidelity. In the absence of a NTP substrate in the active site, the trigger loop opens, which may enable translocation. Another notable structural element of the RNAP catalytic center is the “bridge helix” that separates the active site from downstream DNA. The bridge helix may participate in translocation by bending against the RNA/DNA hybrid to induce RNAP forward movement and to vacate the active site for the next NTP loading. The transition between catalytic and translocation conformations of RNAP is not evident from static crystallographic snapshots in which macromolecular motions may be restrained by crystal packing.
All atom molecular dynamics simulations of Thermus thermophilus (Tt) RNAP reveal flexible hinges, located within the two helices at the base of the trigger loop, and two glycine hinges clustered near the N-terminal end of the bridge helix. As simulation progresses, these hinges adopt distinct conformations in the closed and open trigger loop structures. A number of residues (described as “switch” residues) trade atomic contacts (ion pairs or hydrogen bonds) in response to changes in hinge orientation. In vivo phenotypes and in vitro activities rendered by mutations in the hinge and switch residues in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Sc) RNAP II support the importance of conformational changes predicted from simulations in catalysis and translocation. During simulation, the elongation complex with an open trigger loop spontaneously translocates forward relative to the elongation complex with a closed trigger loop.
Switching between catalytic and translocating RNAP forms involves closing and opening of the trigger loop and long-range conformational changes in the atomic contacts of amino acid side chains, some located at a considerable distance from the trigger loop and active site. Trigger loop closing appears to support chemistry and the fidelity of RNA synthesis. Trigger loop opening and limited bridge helix bending appears to promote forward nucleic acid translocation.
Transcription, the synthesis of RNA from a DNA template, is performed by multisubunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) in all cellular organisms. The bridge helix (BH) is a distinct feature of all multisubunit RNAPs and makes direct interactions with several active site-associated mobile features implicated in the nucleotide addition cycle and RNA and DNA binding. Because the BH has been captured in both kinked and straight conformations in different crystals structures of RNAP, recently supported by molecular dynamics studies, it has been proposed that cycling between these conformations is an integral part of the nucleotide addition cycle. To further evaluate the role of the BH, we conducted systematic alanine scanning mutagenesis of the Escherichia coli RNAP BH to determine its contributions to activities required for transcription. Combining our data with an atomic model of E. coli RNAP, we suggest that alterations in the interactions between the BH and (i) the trigger loop, (ii) fork loop 2, and (iii) switch 2 can help explain the observed changes in RNAP functionality associated with some of the BH variants. Additionally, we show that extensive defects in E. coli RNAP functionality depend upon a single previously not studied lysine residue (Lys-781) that is strictly conserved in all bacteria. It appears that direct interactions made by the BH with other conserved features of RNAP are lost in some of the E. coli alanine substitution variants, which we infer results in conformational changes in RNAP that modify RNAP functionality.
Gene Expression; RNA Polymerase; RNA Synthesis; Transcription; Transcription Initiation Factors; RNA Cleavage
Molecular dynamics simulation of Thermus thermophilus (Tt) RNA polymerase (RNAP) in a catalytic conformation demonstrates that the active site dNMP-NTP base pair must be substantially dehydrated to support full active site closing and optimum conditions for phosphodiester bond synthesis. In silico mutant β R428A RNAP, which was designed based on substitutions at the homologous position (Rpb2 R512) of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Sc) RNAP II, was used as a reference structure to compare to Tt RNAP in simulations. Long range conformational coupling linking a dynamic segment of the bridge α-helix, the extended fork loop, the active site, and the trigger loop-trigger helix is apparent and adversely affected in β R428A RNAP. Furthermore, bridge helix bending is detected in the catalytic structure, indicating that bridge helix dynamics may regulate phosphodiester bond synthesis as well as translocation. An active site “latch” assembly that includes a key trigger helix residue Tt β’ H1242 and highly conserved active site residues β E445 and R557 appears to help regulate active site hydration/dehydration. The potential relevance of these observations in understanding RNAP and DNAP induced fit and fidelity is discussed.
We define the target, mechanism, and structural basis of inhibition of bacterial RNA polymerase (RNAP) by the tetramic-acid antibiotic streptolydigin (Stl). Stl binds to a site adjacent to, but not overlapping, the RNAP active center and stabilizes an RNAP-active-center conformational state with a straight bridge helix. The results provide direct support for the proposals that alternative straight-bridge-helix and bent-bridge-helix RNAP-active-center conformations exist, and that cycling between straight-bridge-helix and bent-bridge-helix RNAP-active-center conformations is required for RNAP function. The results set bounds on models for RNAP function and suggest strategies for design of novel antibacterial agents.
Cellular RNA polymerases are highly conserved enzymes that undergo complex conformational changes to coordinate the processing of nucleic acid substrates through the active site. Two domains in particular, the bridge helix and the trigger loop, play a key role in this mechanism by adopting different conformations at various stages of the nucleotide addition cycle. The functional relevance of these structural changes has been difficult to assess from the relatively small number of static crystal structures currently available.
Using a novel robotic approach we characterized the functional properties of 367 site-directed mutants of the Methanocaldococcus jannaschii RNA polymerase A' subunit, revealing a wide spectrum of in vitro phenotypes. We show that a surprisingly large number of single amino acid substitutions in the bridge helix, including a kink-inducing proline substitution, increase the specific activity of RNA polymerase. Other 'superactivating' substitutions are located in the adjacent base helices of the trigger loop.
The results support the hypothesis that the nucleotide addition cycle involves a kinked bridge helix conformation. The active center of RNA polymerase seems to be constrained by a network of functional interactions between the bridge helix and trigger loop that controls fundamental parameters of RNA synthesis.
The in-depth structure/function analysis of large protein complexes, such as RNA polymerases (RNAPs), requires an experimental platform capable of assembling variants of such enzymes in large numbers in a reproducible manner under defined in vitro conditions. Here we describe a streamlined and integrated protocol for assembling recombinant archaeal RNAPs in a high-throughput 96-well format. All aspects of the procedure including construction of redesigned expression plasmids, development of automated protein extraction/in vitro assembly methods and activity assays were specifically adapted for implementation on robotic platforms. The optimized strategy allows the parallel assembly and activity assay of 96 recombinant RNAPs (including wild-type and mutant variants) with little or no human intervention within 24 h. We demonstrate the high-throughput potential of this system by evaluating the side-chain requirements of a single amino acid position of the RNAP Bridge Helix using saturation mutagenesis.
Spt5 is the only known RNA polymerase-associated factor that is conserved in all three domains of life. We have solved the structure of the Methanococcus jannaschii Spt4/5 complex by X-ray crystallography, and characterized its function and interaction with the archaeal RNAP in a wholly recombinant in vitro transcription system. Archaeal Spt4 and Spt5 form a stable complex that associates with RNAP independently of the DNA–RNA scaffold of the elongation complex. The association of Spt4/5 with RNAP results in a stimulation of transcription processivity, both in the absence and the presence of the non-template strand. A domain deletion analysis reveals the molecular anatomy of Spt4/5—the Spt5 Nus-G N-terminal (NGN) domain is the effector domain of the complex that both mediates the interaction with RNAP and is essential for its elongation activity. Using a mutagenesis approach, we have identified a hydrophobic pocket on the Spt5 NGN domain as binding site for RNAP, and reciprocally the RNAP clamp coiled-coil motif as binding site for Spt4/5.
To elucidate the mechanism of transcription by cellular RNA polymerases (RNAPs), high resolution X-ray crystal structures together with structure-guided biochemical, biophysical and genetics studies are essential. The recently-solved X-ray crystal structures of archaeal RNA polymerase (RNAP) allow a structural comparison of the transcription machinery among all three domains of life. The archaea were once thought of closely related to bacteria, but they are now considered to be more closely related to the eukaryote at the molecular level than bacteria. According to these structures, the archaeal transcription apparatus, which includes RNAP and general transcription factors, is similar to the eukaryotic transcription machinery. Yet, the transcription regulators, activators and repressors, encoded by archaeal genomes are closely related to bacterial factors. Therefore, archaeal transcription appears to possess an intriguing hybrid of eukaryotic-type transcription apparatus and bacterial-like regulatory mechanisms. Elucidating the transcription mechanism in archaea, which possesses a combination of bacterial and eukaryotic transcription mechanisms that are commonly regarded as separate and mutually exclusive, can provide data that will bring basic transcription mechanisms across all three domains of life.
The archaeal RNA polymerase (RNAP) shares structural similarities with eukaryotic RNAP II but requires a reduced subset of general transcription factors for promoter-dependent initiation. To deepen our knowledge of cellular transcription, we have determined the structure of the 13-subunit DNA-directed RNAP from Sulfolobus shibatae at 3.35 Å resolution. The structure contains the full complement of subunits, including RpoG/Rpb8 and the equivalent of the clamp-head and jaw domains of the eukaryotic Rpb1. Furthermore, we have identified subunit Rpo13, an RNAP component in the order Sulfolobales, which contains a helix-turn-helix motif that interacts with the RpoH/Rpb5 and RpoA′/Rpb1 subunits. Its location and topology suggest a role in the formation of the transcription bubble.
Transcription, the process of converting DNA into RNA (which in turn is translated into proteins by ribosomes) is carried out by the multisubunit RNA polymerase (RNAP) enzyme. Transcription is fundamental to all organisms across the three kingdoms of life—Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea—and can be divided into three major steps: initiation, transcription/elongation, and termination. Eukaryotes have three different nuclear RNAPs, whereas Archaea and Bacteria have one. Archaeal transcription is similar to that of eukaryotes, but initiation requires only two accessory proteins bound to DNA: transcription factor B (TFB) and TATA-box binding protein (TBP). It is believed that studies of the archaeal enzyme may shed light on the more complex eukaryotic RNAP. Our complete structure of the archaeal RNAP from Sulfolobus shibatae has fully elucidated its architecture, confirming its close evolutionary relationship with the eukaryotic RNAP II and at the same time revealed a new subunit, Rpo13, with no ortholog in the eukaryotic enzyme. The location and topology of Rpo13 allow us to suggest a mechanism by which Archaea bypass the additional eukaryotic cofactors required for transcription initiation.
The complete archaeal RNA polymerase structure is strikingly similar to the equivalent eukaryotic enzyme. Rpo13, a newly identified archaeal-specific subunit, may explain the minimal set of cofactors required for archaeal transcription initiation.
Three conserved aspartate residues in the largest subunit of multisubunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) coordinate two Mg2+ ions involved in the catalysis of phosphodiester bond synthesis. A structural model based on the stereochemistry of nucleotidyl transfer reaction as well as recent crystallographic data predict that these Mg2+ ions should also be involved in the reverse reaction of pyrophosphorolysis as well as in the endo- and exonucleolytic cleavage of the nascent RNA. Here, we check these predictions by constructing point substitutions of each of the three Asp residues in the β′ subunit of Escherichia coli RNAP and testing the mutant enzymes' functions. Using artificially assembled elongation complexes, we demonstrate that substitutions of any of the three aspartates dramatically reduce all known RNAP catalytic activities, supporting the model's predictions that same amino acids participate in all RNAP catalytic reactions. We demonstrate that though substitutions in the DFDGD motif decrease Mg2+ binding to free RNAP below detection limits, the apparent affinity to Mg2+ in transcription complexes formed by the mutant and wild-type RNAPs is similar, suggesting that NTP substrates and/or nucleic acids actively contribute to the retention of active center Mg2+.
High-resolution crystallographic structures of multisubunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) have increased our understanding of transcriptional mechanisms. Based on a thorough review of the literature, we have compiled the mutations affecting the function of multisubunit RNA polymerases, many of which having been generated and studied prior to the publication of the first high-resolution structure, and highlighted the positions of the altered amino acids in the structures of both the prokaryotic and eukaryotic enzymes. The observations support many previous hypotheses on the transcriptional process, including the implication of the bridge helix and the trigger loop in the processivity of RNAP, the importance of contacts between the RNAP jaw-lobe module and the downstream DNA in the establishment of a transcription bubble and selection of the transcription start site, the destabilizing effects of ppGpp on the open promoter complex, and the link between RNAP processivity and termination. This study also revealed novel, remarkable features of the RNA polymerase catalytic mechanisms that will require additional investigation, including the putative roles of fork loop 2 in the establishment of a transcription bubble, the trigger loop in start site selection, and the uncharacterized funnel domain in RNAP processivity.
We report the target, biochemical basis, and structural basis of inhibition of bacterial RNA polymerase (RNAP) by the α-pyrone antibiotic myxopyronin (Myx). We show that Myx interacts with the RNAP “switch region,” the hinge that mediates opening and closing of the RNAP active-center cleft. We show that Myx prevents interaction of RNAP with promoter DNA. We present a crystal structure that defines contacts between Myx and RNAP and defines effects of Myx on RNAP conformation. We propose that Myx functions by preventing opening of the RNAP active-center cleft to permit entry of DNA during transcription initiation (“hinge jamming”). We establish further that the structurally related α-pyrone antibiotic corallopyronin and the structurally unrelated macrocyclic-lactone antibiotic ripostatin function through the same target and same mechanism. The RNAP switch region is an attractive target for identification of new broad-spectrum antibacterial therapeutic agents.
Archaeal RNA polymerases (RNAPs) are recruited to promoters through the joint action of three basal transcription factors: TATA-binding protein, TFB (archaeal homolog of TFIIB), and TFE (archaeal homolog of TFIIE). Our results demonstrate several new insights into the mechanisms of TFB and TFE during the transcription cycle. (i) The N-terminal Zn ribbon of TFB displays a surprising degree of redundancy for the recruitment of RNAP during transcription initiation in the archaeal system. (ii) The B-finger domain of TFB participates in transcription initiation events by stimulating abortive and productive transcription in a recruitment-independent function. TFB thus combines physical recruitment of the RNAP with an active role in influencing the catalytic properties of RNAP during transcription initiation. (iii) TFB mutations are complemented by TFE, thereby demonstrating that both factors act synergistically during transcription initiation. (iv) An additional function of TFE is to dynamically alter the nucleic acid-binding properties of RNAP by stabilizing the initiation complex and destabilizing elongation complexes.
Tagetitoxin (Tgt) inhibits plastid-encoded, bacterial and some eukaryotic RNA polymerases (RNAPs) by an unknown mechanism. A 2.4Å-resolution structure of the Thermus thermophilus RNAP/Tgt complex revealed that Tgt-binding site within the RNAP secondary channel overlaps with that of the stringent control effector ppGpp, which partially protects RNAP from Tgt inhibition. Tgt binding is mediated exclusively through polar interactions with the β and β′ residues whose substitutions confer resistance to Tgt in vitro. Importantly, a Tgt phosphate, together with two active site acidic residues, coordinates the third Mg2+ ion distinct from the two catalytic metal ions. We show that Tgt inhibits all RNAP catalytic reactions and propose a mechanism in which the Tgt-bound Mg2+ ion plays a key role in stabilization of an inactive transcription intermediate. This and other recent studies suggest that Mg-mediated remodeling of the active site could be a common theme in the regulation of catalysis by nucleic acid enzymes.
Multi-subunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) in all three domains of life share a common ancestry. The composition of the archaeal RNAP (aRNAP) is not identical between phyla and species, with subunits Rpo8 and Rpo13 found in restricted subsets of archaea. While Rpo8 has an ortholog, Rpb8, in the nuclear eukaryal RNAPs, Rpo13 lacks clear eukaryal orthologs. Here, we report crystal structures of the DNA-bound and free form of the aRNAP from Sulfolobus shibatae. Together with biochemical and biophysical analyses, these data show that Rpo13 C-terminus binds non-specifically to double-stranded DNA. These interactions map on our RNAP–DNA binary complex on the downstream DNA at the far end of the DNA entry channel. Our findings thus support Rpo13 as a RNAP–DNA stabilization factor, a role reminiscent of eukaryotic general transcriptional factors. The data further yield insight into the mechanisms and evolution of RNAP–DNA interaction.
TFIIE and the archaeal homolog TFE enhance DNA strand separation of eukaryotic RNAPII and the archaeal RNAP during transcription initiation by an unknown mechanism. We have developed a fluorescently labeled recombinant M. jannaschii RNAP system to probe the archaeal transcription initiation complex, consisting of promoter DNA, TBP, TFB, TFE, and RNAP. We have localized the position of the TFE winged helix (WH) and Zinc ribbon (ZR) domains on the RNAP using single-molecule FRET. The interaction sites of the TFE WH domain and the transcription elongation factor Spt4/5 overlap, and both factors compete for RNAP binding. Binding of Spt4/5 to RNAP represses promoter-directed transcription in the absence of TFE, which alleviates this effect by displacing Spt4/5 from RNAP. During elongation, Spt4/5 can displace TFE from the RNAP elongation complex and stimulate processivity. Our results identify the RNAP “clamp” region as a regulatory hot spot for both transcription initiation and transcription elongation.
► The RNAP clamp coiled coil and RNAP stalk are required for TFE binding and activity ► The elongation factor Spt4/5 can inhibit PIC formation and transcription initiation ► TFE efficiently prevents inhibition of transcription initiation by Spt4/5 ► Spt4/5 displaces TFE from the TEC
Elucidating the mechanism of transcription initiation by RNA polymerases (RNAP) is essential for understanding gene transcription and regulation. Although several models such as DNA scrunching, RNAP translation, and RNAP rotation have been proposed, the mechanism of initiation by T7 RNAP has remained unclear. Using ensemble and single molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) studies, we provide evidence for concerted DNA scrunching and rotation during initiation by T7 RNAP. A constant spatial distance between the upstream and downstream edges of initiation complexes making 4-7 nt RNA supports the DNA scrunching model, but not the RNAP translation or the pure rotation model. DNA scrunching is accompanied by moderate hinging motion (18 ± 4°) of the promoter towards the downstream DNA. The observed step-wise conformational changes provide a basis to understand abortive RNA synthesis during early stages of initiation and promoter escape during the later stages that allows transition to processive elongation.
The transcription apparatus in Archaea can be described as a simplified version of its eukaryotic RNA polymerase (RNAP) II counterpart, comprising a RNAPII-like enzyme as well as two general transcription factors, the TATA-binding protein (TBP) and the eukaryotic TFIIB ortholog TFB1,2. It has been widely understood that precise comparisons among cellular RNAP crystal structures could reveal structural elements common to all enzymes and that these insights would be useful to analyze components of each enzyme that enable it to perform domain-specific gene expression. However, the structure of archaeal RNAP has been limited to individual subunits3,4. Here, we report the first crystal structure of the archaeal RNAP from Sulfolobus solfataricus at 3.4 Å resolution, completing the suite of multi-subunit RNAP structures from all three domains of life. We also report the high resolution (at 1.76 Å) crystal structure of the D/L subcomplex of archaeal RNAP and provide the first experimental evidence of any RNAP possessing an iron-sulfur (Fe-S) cluster, which may play a structural role in a key subunit of RNAP assembly. The striking structural similarity between archaeal RNAP and eukaryotic RNAPII highlights the simpler archaeal RNAP as an ideal model system for dissecting the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription.
Inhibition of bacterial RNA polymerase (RNAP) is an established strategy for antituberculosis therapy and broad-spectrum antibacterial therapy. Crystal structures of RNAP-inhibitor complexes are available for four classes of antibiotics: rifamycins, sorangicin, streptolydigin, and myxopyronin. The structures define three different targets, and three different mechanisms, for inhibition of bacterial RNAP: (1) rifamycins and sorangicin bind near the RNAP active center and block extension of RNA products; (2) streptolydigin interacts with a target that overlaps the RNAP active center and inhibits conformational cycling of the RNAP active center; and (3) myxopyronin interacts with a target remote from the RNAP active center and functions by interfering with opening of the RNAP active-center cleft to permit entry and unwinding of DNA and/or by interfering with interactions between RNAP and the DNA template strand. The structures enable construction of homology models of pathogen RNAP-antibiotic complexes, enable in silico screening for new antibacterial agents, and enable rational design of improved antibacterial agents.
Explicit solvent molecular dynamics (MD) was used to describe the intrinsic flexibility of the helix 42–44 portion of the 23S rRNA (abbreviated as Kt-42+rGAC; kink-turn 42 and GTPase-associated center rRNA). The bottom part of this molecule consists of alternating rigid and flexible segments. The first flexible segment (Hinge1) is the highly anharmonic kink of Kt-42. The second one (Hinge2) is localized at the junction between helix 42 and helices 43/44. The rigid segments are the two arms of helix 42 flanking the kink. The whole molecule ends up with compact helices 43/44 (Head) which appear to be modestly compressed towards the subunit in the Haloarcula marismortui X-ray structure. Overall, the helix 42–44 rRNA is constructed as a sophisticated intrinsically flexible anisotropic molecular limb. The leading flexibility modes include bending at the hinges and twisting. The Head shows visible internal conformational plasticity, stemming from an intricate set of base pairing patterns including dynamical triads and tetrads. In summary, we demonstrate how rRNA building blocks with contrasting intrinsic flexibilities can form larger architectures with highly specific patterns of preferred low-energy motions and geometries.
In all organisms, RNA polymerase (RNAP) relies on accessory factors to complete synthesis of long RNAs. These factors increase RNAP processivity by reducing pausing and termination, but their molecular mechanisms remain incompletely understood. We identify the β gate loop as an RNAP element required for antipausing activity of a bacterial virulence factor RfaH, a member of the universally conserved NusG family. Interactions with the gate loop are necessary for suppression of pausing and termination by RfaH, but are dispensable for RfaH binding to RNAP mediated by the β′ clamp helices. We hypothesize that, upon binding to the clamp helices and the gate loop, RfaH bridges the gap across the DNA channel, stabilizing RNAP/nucleic acid contacts and disfavoring isomerization into a paused state. We show that contacts with the gate loop are also required for antipausing by NusG and propose that most NusG homologs use similar mechanisms to increase RNAP processivity.
Coliphage N4 virion-encapsidated RNA polymerase (vRNAP) is a member of the phage T7-like single-subunit RNA polymerase (RNAP) family. Its central domain (mini-vRNAP) contains all RNAP functions of the full-length vRNAP, which recognizes a five- to seven-base pair stem and three-nucleotide loop hairpin DNA promoter. Here we report the X-ray crystal structures of mini-vRNAP bound to promoters. Mini-vRNAP uses four structural motifs to recognize DNA sequences at the hairpin loop and stem, and to unwind DNA. Despite their low sequence similarity, three out of four motifs are shared with T7 RNAP that recognizes a double-stranded DNA promoter. The binary complex structure and results of engineered disulfide-linkage experiments reveal that the plug and motif B loop, which block the access of template DNA to the active site in the apo-form mini-vRNAP, undergo a large-scale conformational change upon promoter binding, explaining the restricted promoter specificity that is critical for N4 phage early transcription.
Evolutionary related multisubunit RNA polymerases from all three domains of life, Eukarya, Archaea and Bacteria, have common structural and functional properties. We have recently shown that two RNAP subunits, F/E (RPB4/7)—which are conserved between eukaryotes and Archaea but have no bacterial homologues—interact with the nascent RNA chain and thereby profoundly modulate RNAP activity. Overall F/E increases transcription processivity, but it also stimulates transcription termination in a sequence-dependent manner. In addition to RNA-binding, these two apparently opposed processes are likely to involve an allosteric mechanism of the RNAP clamp. Spt4/5 is the only known RNAP-associated transcription factor that is conserved in all three domains of life, and it stimulates elongation similar to RNAP subunits F/E. Spt4/5 enhances processivity in a fashion that is independent of the nontemplate DNA strand, by interacting with the RNAP clamp. Whereas the molecular mechanism of Spt4/5 is universally conserved in evolution, the added functionality of F/E-like complexes has emerged after the split of the bacterial and archaeo-eukaryotic lineages. Interestingly, bacteriophage-encoded antiterminator proteins could, in theory, fulfil an analogous function in the bacterial RNAP.
transcription; RNA polymerase; F/E RPB4/7; Spt4/5; evolution; archaea
The highly processive transcription by multi-subunit RNA polymerases (RNAP) can be interrupted by misincorporation or backtracking events that may stall transcription or lead to erroneous transcripts. Backtracked/misincorporated complexes can be resolved via hydrolysis of the transcript. Here, we show that, in response to misincorporation and/or backtracking, the catalytic domain of RNAP active centre, the trigger loop (TL), is substituted by transcription factor Gre. This substitution turns off the intrinsic TL-dependent hydrolytic activity of RNAP active centre, and exchanges it to a far more efficient Gre-dependent mechanism of RNA hydrolysis. Replacement of the TL by Gre factor occurs only in backtracked/misincorporated complexes, and not in correctly elongating complexes. This controlled switching of RNAP activities allows the processivity of elongation to be unaffected by the hydrolytic activity of Gre, while ensuring efficient proofreading of transcription and resolution of backtracked complexes.