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Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2017 Jun;46:72-80. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2017 Mar 28.

Pause & go: from the discovery of RNA polymerase pausing to its functional implications.

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Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States. Electronic address:


The synthesis of nascent RNA is a discontinuous process in which phases of productive elongation by RNA polymerase are interrupted by frequent pauses. Transcriptional pausing was first observed decades ago, but was long considered to be a special feature of transcription at certain genes. This view was challenged when studies using genome-wide approaches revealed that RNA polymerase II pauses at promoter-proximal regions in large sets of genes in Drosophila and mammalian cells. High-resolution genomic methods uncovered that pausing is not restricted to promoters, but occurs globally throughout gene-body regions, implying the existence of key-rate limiting steps in nascent RNA synthesis downstream of transcription initiation. Here, we outline the experimental breakthroughs that led to the discovery of pervasive transcriptional pausing, discuss its emerging roles and regulation, and highlight the importance of pausing in human development and disease.

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