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Biochemistry. 2006 Jul 25;45(29):8841-54.

Initial transcribed sequence mutations specifically affect promoter escape properties.

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Program in Biochemistry, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts 01075, USA.


Promoter escape efficiency of E. coli RNA polymerase is guided by both the core promoter and the initial transcribed sequence (ITS). Here, we quantitatively examined the escape properties of 43 random initial sequence variants of the phage T5 N25 promoter. The position for promoter escape on all N25-ITS variants occurred at the +15/+16 juncture, unlike the +11/+12 juncture for the wild type N25. These variants further exhibited a 25-fold difference in escape efficiency. ITS changes favoring promoter escape showed a compositional bias that is unrelated to nucleotide substrate binding affinity for the initial positions. Comparing all variants, the natural N25 promoter emerges as having evolved an ITS optimal for promoter escape, giving a high level of productive synthesis after undergoing the shortest abortive program. We supplemented GreB to transcription reactions to better understand abortive initiation and promoter escape in vivo. GreB supplementation elevated productive RNA synthesis 2-5-fold by altering the abortive RNA pattern, decreasing the abundance of the medium (6-10 nt) to long (11-15 nt) abortive RNAs without changing the levels of short (2-5 nt) and very long abortive RNAs (16-20 nt). The GreB-refractive nature of short abortive RNA production may reflect a minimum length requirement of 4-5 bp of the RNA-DNA hybrid for maintaining the stability of initial or backtracked complexes. That the very long abortive RNAs are unaffected by GreB suggests that they are unlikely to be products of polymerase backtracking. How the ITS might influence the course of early transcription is discussed within the structural context of an initial transcribing complex.

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