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J Mol Biol. 1998 Aug 28;281(4):663-73.

DNA structure in human RNA polymerase II promoters.

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  • 1Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, The Technical University of Denmark, Building 208, Lyngby, DK-2800, Denmark.


The fact that DNA three-dimensional structure is important for transcriptional regulation begs the question of whether eukaryotic promoters contain general structural features independently of what genes they control. We present an analysis of a large set of human RNA polymerase II promoters with a very low level of sequence similarity. The sequences, which include both TATA-containing and TATA-less promoters, are aligned by hidden Markov models. Using three different models of sequence-derived DNA bendability, the aligned promoters display a common structural profile with bendability being low in a region upstream of the transcriptional start point and significantly higher downstream. Investigation of the sequence composition in the two regions shows that the bendability profile originates from the sequential structure of the DNA, rather than the general nucleotide composition. Several trinucleotides known to have high propensity for major groove compression are found much more frequently in the regions downstream of the transcriptional start point, while the upstream regions contain more low-bendability triplets. Within the region downstream of the start point, we observe a periodic pattern in sequence and bendability, which is in phase with the DNA helical pitch. The periodic bendability profile shows bending peaks roughly at every 10 bp with stronger bending at 20 bp intervals. These observations suggest that DNA in the region downstream of the transcriptional start point is able to wrap around protein in a manner reminiscent of DNA in a nucleosome. This notion is further supported by the finding that the periodic bendability is caused mainly by the complementary triplet pairs CAG/CTG and GGC/GCC, which previously have been found to correlate with nucleosome positioning. We present models where the high-bendability regions position nucleosomes at the downstream end of the transcriptional start point, and consider the possibility of interaction between histone-like TAFs and this area. We also propose the use of this structural signature in computational promoter-finding algorithms.

Copyright 1998 Academic Press.

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