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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 7;106(14):5569-74. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0810738106. Epub 2009 Mar 23.

B2 RNA and Alu RNA repress transcription by disrupting contacts between RNA polymerase II and promoter DNA within assembled complexes.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado, 215 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309-0215, USA.


Noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are now recognized as transregulators of eukaryotic transcription, a role once attributed exclusively to protein factors. Two ncRNAs in mammalian cells have been shown to repress general mRNA transcription by RNA polymerase II (Pol II) in response to heat shock: mouse B2 RNA and human Alu RNA. B2 and Alu RNAs bind directly and tightly to Pol II and co-occupy the promoters of repressed genes along with the polymerase. Here, we identified the molecular mechanism by which mouse B2 RNA and human Alu RNA repress Pol II transcription. Biochemical assays to probe the network of protein-DNA interactions at the promoter revealed that B2 and Alu RNAs prevent Pol II from establishing contacts with the promoter both upstream and downstream of the TATA box during closed complex formation. Disruption of these contacts correlates with transcriptional repression. We conclude that B2 and Alu RNA prevent Pol II from properly engaging the DNA during closed complex formation, resulting in complexes with an altered conformation that are transcriptionally inert. In the absence of its normal contacts with the promoter, Pol II is likely held in these inactive complexes on DNA through interactions with promoter-bound TATA box-binding protein and transcription factor IIB.

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