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J Mol Biol. 1989 Jun 20;207(4):749-56.

Promoter recognition by Escherichia coli RNA polymerase. Role of the spacer DNA in functional complex formation.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106.


The available evidence suggests that during the process of formation of a functional or "open" complex at a promoter, Escherichia coli RNA polymerase transiently realigns the two contacted regions of the promoter, thus stressing the intervening spacer DNA. We tested the possibility that this process plays an active role in the formation of an open complex. Two series of promoters were examined: one with spacer DNAs of 15 to 19 base-pairs and a derivative for which the promoters additionally contained a one-base gap in the spacer, so as to relieve any stress imposed on the DNA. Consistent with an active role for the stressed DNA in driving open complex formation, we have found that for promoters with a 17-base-pair spacer, the presence of a gap leads to a delay in the formation of an open complex, at a step subsequent to the initial binding of RNA polymerase to the promoter. The results with the other gapped promoters rule out direct binding of RNA polymerase to the region of the gap and indicate an increased flexibility in the gapped DNA. As not all observations with the spacer length series of gapped and ungapped promoters can be interpreted in terms of an active role of the spacer DNA without additional assumptions, such a role must still be considered tentative.

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