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Genome Biol. 2010;11(3):R33. doi: 10.1186/gb-2010-11-3-r33. Epub 2010 Mar 15.

Basal core promoters control the equilibrium between negative cofactor 2 and preinitiation complexes in human cells.

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Institute of Molecular Tumor Biology (IMTB), University of Muenster, Robert-Koch-Str, Muenster, Germany.



The general transcription factor TFIIB and its antagonist negative cofactor 2 (NC2) are hallmarks of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) transcription. Both factors bind TATA box-binding protein (TBP) at promoters in a mutually exclusive manner. Dissociation of NC2 is thought to be followed by TFIIB association and subsequent preinitiation complex formation. TFIIB dissociates upon RNAPII promoter clearance, thereby providing a specific measure for steady-state preinitiation complex levels. As yet, genome-scale promoter mapping of human TFIIB has not been reported. It thus remains elusive how human core promoters contribute to preinitiation complex formation in vivo.


We compare target genes of TFIIB and NC2 in human B cells and analyze associated core promoter architectures. TFIIB occupancy is positively correlated with gene expression, with the vast majority of promoters being GC-rich and lacking defined core promoter elements. TATA elements, but not the previously in vitro defined TFIIB recognition elements, are enriched in some 4 to 5% of the genes. NC2 binds to a highly related target gene set. Nonetheless, subpopulations show strong variations in factor ratios: whereas high TFIIB/NC2 ratios select for promoters with focused start sites and conserved core elements, high NC2/TFIIB ratios correlate to multiple start-site promoters lacking defined core elements.


TFIIB and NC2 are global players that occupy active genes. Preinitiation complex formation is independent of core elements at the majority of genes. TATA and TATA-like elements dictate TFIIB occupancy at a subset of genes. Biochemical data support a model in which preinitiation complex but not TBP-NC2 complex formation is regulated.

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