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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Sep 12;92(19):8793-7.

Transcription termination at intrinsic terminators: the role of the RNA hairpin.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Biology, University of Oregon, Eugene 97403, USA.


Intrinsic termination of transcription in Escherichia coli involves the formation of an RNA hairpin in the nascent RNA. This hairpin plays a central role in the release of the transcript and polymerase at intrinsic termination sites on the DNA template. We have created variants of the lambda tR2 terminator hairpin and examined the relationship between the structure and stability of this hairpin and the template positions and efficiencies of termination. The results were used to test the simple nucleic acid destabilization model of Yager and von Hippel and showed that this model must be modified to provide a distinct role for the rU-rich sequence in the nascent RNA, since a perfect palindromic sequence that is sufficiently long to form an RNA hairpin that could destabilize the entire putative 12-bp RNA-DNA hybrid does not trigger termination at the expected positions. Rather, our results show that both a stable terminator hairpin and the run of 6-8 rU residues that immediately follows are required for effective intrinsic termination and that termination occurs at specific and invariant template positions relative to these two components. Possible structural or kinetic modifications of the simple model are proposed in the light of these findings and of recent results implicating "inchworming" and possible conformational heterogeneity of transcription complexes in intrinsic termination. Thus, these findings argue that the structure and dimensions of the hairpin are important determinants of the termination-elongation decision and suggest that a complete mechanism is likely to involve specific interactions of the polymerase, the RNA terminator hairpin, and, perhaps, the dT-rich template sequence that codes for the run of rU residues at the 3' end of the nascent transcript.

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