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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jan 11;102(2):285-90. Epub 2004 Dec 30.

The effects of upstream DNA on open complex formation by Escherichia coli RNA polymerase.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Binding of activators to upstream DNA sequences regulates transcription initiation by affecting the stability of the initial RNA polymerase (RNAP)-promoter complex and/or the rate of subsequent conformational changes required to form the open complex (RP(O)). Here we observe that the presence of nonspecific upstream DNA profoundly affects an early step in formation of the transcription bubble. Kinetic studies with the lambdaP(R) promoter and Escherichia coli RNAP reveal that the presence of DNA upstream of base pair -47 greatly increases the rate of forming RP(O), without significantly affecting its rate of dissociation. We find that this increase is largely due to an acceleration of the rate-limiting step (isomerization) in RP(O) formation, a step that occurs after polymerase binds. Footprinting experiments reveal striking structural differences downstream of the transcription start site (+1) in the first kinetically significant intermediate when upstream DNA is present. On the template strand, the DNase I downstream boundary of this early intermediate is +20 when upstream DNA is present but is shortened by approximately two helical turns when upstream DNA beyond -47 is removed. KMnO(4) footprinting reveals an identical initiation bubble (-11 to +2), but unusual reactivity of template strand upstream cytosines (-12, -14, and -15) on the truncated promoter. Based on this work, we propose that early wrapping interactions between upstream DNA and the polymerase exterior strongly affect the events that control entry and subsequent unwinding of the DNA start site in the jaws of polymerase.

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