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Genes Dev. 2001 May 1;15(9):1045-50.

Transcriptional activation: risky business.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York 11724, USA.


Transcriptional regulation is all about getting RNA polymerase to the right place on the gene at the right time and making sure that it is competent to conduct transcription. Traditional views of this process place most of their emphasis on the events that precede initiation of transcription. We imagine a promoter-bound transcriptional activator (or collection of activators) recruiting components of the basal transcriptional machinery to the DNA, eventually leading to the recruitment of RNA polymerase II and the onset of gene transcription. Although these events play a crucial role in regulating gene expression, they are only half the story. Correct regulation of transcription requires that polymerase not only initiates when and where it should, but that it stops initiating when no longer appropriate. But how are the signals from transcriptional activators, telling RNA polymerase to fire, terminated? Is this process governed by chance, with activators simply falling off the promoter at a certain frequency? Or is there some more direct mechanism, whereby activators are aggressively limited from uncontrolled promoter activation? A new article by suggests the latter may be true, and provides a mechanism for how a component of the basal transcription machinery can mark the activators it has encountered, sentencing them to an early death or banishing them from the nucleus. The ability of the basal transcriptional apparatus to mark activators provides an efficient way to limit activator function and ensures that continuing transcription initiation at a promoter is coupled to the continuing synthesis and activation of transcriptional activators.

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