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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 25;105(47):18159-64. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0806084105. Epub 2008 Nov 18.

Stochasticity and traffic jams in the transcription of ribosomal RNA: Intriguing role of termination and antitermination.

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Center for Theoretical Biological Physics and Department of Physics, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0374, USA.


In fast-growing bacteria, ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is required to be transcribed at very high rates to sustain the high cellular demand on ribosome synthesis. This results in dense traffic of RNA polymerases (RNAP). We developed a stochastic model, integrating results of single-molecule and quantitative in vivo studies of Escherichia coli, to evaluate the quantitative effect of pausing, termination, and antitermination (AT) on rRNA transcription. Our calculations reveal that in dense RNAP traffic, spontaneous pausing of RNAP can lead to severe "traffic jams," as manifested in the broad distribution of inter-RNAP distances and can be a major factor limiting transcription and hence growth. Our results suggest the suppression of these pauses by the ribosomal AT complex to be essential at fast growth. Moreover, unsuppressed pausing by even a few nonantiterminated RNAPs can already reduce transcription drastically under dense traffic. However, the termination factor Rho can remove the nonantiterminated RNAPs and restore fast transcription. The results thus suggest an intriguing role by Rho to enhance rather than attenuate rRNA transcription.

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