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Annu Rev Biophys. 2017 May 22;46:59-83. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-070816-033751.

Structural Insights into the Eukaryotic Transcription Initiation Machinery.

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Molecular and Cell Biology Department and QB3 Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3220.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Berkeley, California 94720-3220.
Molecular Biophysics and Integrative Bioimaging Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, California 94720-3220; email:
Biophysics Graduate Group, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3220.
Department of Molecular Biosciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208-3500.


Eukaryotic gene transcription requires the assembly at the promoter of a large preinitiation complex (PIC) that includes RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and the general transcription factors TFIID, TFIIA, TFIIB, TFIIF, TFIIE, and TFIIH. The size and complexity of Pol II, TFIID, and TFIIH have precluded their reconstitution from heterologous systems, and purification relies on scarce endogenous sources. Together with their conformational flexibility and the transient nature of their interactions, these limitations had precluded structural characterization of the PIC. In the last few years, however, progress in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has made possible the visualization, at increasingly better resolution, of large PIC assemblies in different functional states. These structures can now be interpreted in near-atomic detail and provide an exciting structural framework for past and future functional studies, giving us unique mechanistic insight into the complex process of transcription initiation.


PIC; TFIID; TFIIE; TFIIF; TFIIH; cryo-EM; general transcription factors

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