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Genes Dev. 2001 Mar 1;15(5):491-506.

Fine structure of E. coli RNA polymerase-promoter interactions: alpha subunit binding to the UP element minor groove.

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  • 1Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


The alpha subunit of E. coli RNAP plays an important role in the recognition of many promoters by binding to the A+T-rich UP element, a DNA sequence located upstream of the recognition elements for the sigma subunit, the -35 and -10 hexamers. We examined DNA-RNAP interactions using high resolution interference and protection footprinting methods and using the minor groove-binding drug distamycin. Our results suggest that alpha interacts with bases in the DNA minor groove and with the DNA backbone along the minor groove, but that UP element major groove surfaces do not make a significant contribution to alpha binding. On the basis of these and previous results, we propose a model in which alpha contacts UP element DNA through amino acid residues located in a pair of helix-hairpin-helix motifs. Furthermore, our experiments extend existing information about recognition of the core promoter by sigma(70) by identifying functional groups in the major grooves of the -35 and -10 hexamers in which modifications interfere with RNAP binding. These studies greatly improve the resolution of our picture of the promoter-RNAP interaction.

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