Lerner, E., et al. Backtracked and paused transcription initiation intermediate of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 113, E6562–E6571 (2016). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Initiation is a highly regulated, rate-limiting step in transcription. We used a series of approaches to examine the kinetics of RNA polymerase (RNAP) transcription initiation in greater detail. Quenched kinetics assays, in combination with gel-based assays, showed that RNAP exit kinetics from complexes stalled at later stages of initiation (e.g., from a 7-base transcript) were markedly slower than from earlier stages (e.g., from a 2- or 4-base transcript). In addition, the RNAP-GreA endonuclease accelerated transcription kinetics from otherwise delayed initiation states. Further examination with magnetic tweezers transcription experiments showed that RNAP adopted a long-lived backtracked state during initiation and that the paused-backtracked initiation intermediate was populated abundantly at physiologically relevant nucleoside triphosphate (NTP) concentrations. The paused intermediate population was further increased when the NTP concentration was decreased and/or when an imbalance in NTP concentration was introduced (situations that mimic stress). Our results confirm the existence of a previously hypothesized paused and backtracked RNAP initiation intermediate and suggest it is biologically relevant; furthermore, such intermediates could be exploited for therapeutic purposes and may reflect a conserved state among paused, initiating eukaryotic RNA polymerase II enzymes.