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Nature. 1992 Jul 30;358(6385):422-4.

Specific binding of the transcription factor sigma-54 to promoter DNA.

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AFRC Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.


A central event in transcription is the assembly on DNA of specific complexes near the initiation sites for RNA synthesis. Activation of transcription by one class of enhancer-binding proteins requires an RNA polymerase holoenzyme containing the specialized transcription factor, sigma-54 (sigma 54). We report here that sigma 54 alone specifically binds to promoter DNA and is responsible for many of the close contacts between RNA polymerase holoenzyme and promoter DNA, a property proposed for the major sigma 70 protein family. Binding of sigma 54 to promoter DNA is not equivalent to that of holoenzyme suggesting that there is a constraint on sigma 54 conformation when bound with core RNA polymerase. Footprints indicate sigma 54 is at the leading edge of DNA-bound holoenzyme. Like the holoenzyme, sigma 54-binding to promoter DNA does not result in DNA strand separation. Instead the specific DNA-binding activity of sigma 54 assists assembly of a closed promoter complex. This complex can be isomerized to the open (DNA melted) complex by activator protein, but promoter-bound sigma 54 alone cannot be induced to melt DNA. The pathway leading to productive transcription is similar to that proposed for eukaryotic RNA polymerase II systems.

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