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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Nov 3;112(44):13467-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1515231112. Epub 2015 Oct 19.

Metalloregulator CueR biases RNA polymerase's kinetic sampling of dead-end or open complex to repress or activate transcription.

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Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853;
Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853;


Metalloregulators respond to metal ions to regulate transcription of metal homeostasis genes. MerR-family metalloregulators act on σ(70)-dependent suboptimal promoters and operate via a unique DNA distortion mechanism in which both the apo and holo forms of the regulators bind tightly to their operator sequence, distorting DNA structure and leading to transcription repression or activation, respectively. It remains unclear how these metalloregulator-DNA interactions are coupled dynamically to RNA polymerase (RNAP) interactions with DNA for transcription regulation. Using single-molecule FRET, we study how the copper efflux regulator (CueR)--a Cu(+)-responsive MerR-family metalloregulator--modulates RNAP interactions with CueR's cognate suboptimal promoter PcopA, and how RNAP affects CueR-PcopA interactions. We find that RNAP can form two noninterconverting complexes at PcopA in the absence of nucleotides: a dead-end complex and an open complex, constituting a branched interaction pathway that is distinct from the linear pathway prevalent for transcription initiation at optimal promoters. Capitalizing on this branched pathway, CueR operates via a "biased sampling" instead of "dynamic equilibrium shifting" mechanism in regulating transcription initiation; it modulates RNAP's binding-unbinding kinetics, without allowing interconversions between the dead-end and open complexes. Instead, the apo-repressor form reinforces the dominance of the dead-end complex to repress transcription, and the holo-activator form shifts the interactions toward the open complex to activate transcription. RNAP, in turn, locks CueR binding at PcopA into its specific binding mode, likely helping amplify the differences between apo- and holo-CueR in imposing DNA structural changes. Therefore, RNAP and CueR work synergistically in regulating transcription.


MerR-family regulators; metal-responsive transcription regulation; protein–DNA interaction dynamics; single-molecule FRET

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