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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jul 6;107(27):12133-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0910581107. Epub 2010 Jun 18.

Core human mitochondrial transcription apparatus is a regulated two-component system in vitro.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, 310 Cedar Street, PO Box 208023, New Haven, CT 06520-8023, USA.


The core human mitochondrial transcription apparatus is currently regarded as an obligate three-component system comprising the bacteriophage T7-related mitochondrial RNA polymerase, the rRNA methyltransferase-related transcription factor, h-mtTFB2, and the high mobility group box transcription/DNA-packaging factor, h-mtTFA/TFAM. Using a faithful recombinant human mitochondrial transcription system from Escherichia coli, we demonstrate that specific initiation from the mtDNA promoters, LSP and HSP1, only requires mitochondrial RNA polymerase and h-mtTFB2 in vitro. When h-mtTFA is added to these basal components, LSP exhibits a much lower threshold for activation and a larger amplitude response than HSP1. In addition, when LSP and HSP1 are together on the same transcription template, h-mtTFA-independent transcription from HSP1 and h-mtTFA-dependent transcription from both promoters is enhanced and a higher concentration of h-mtTFA is required to stimulate HSP1. Promoter competition experiments revealed that, in addition to LSP competing transcription components away from HSP1, additional cis-acting signals are involved in these aspects of promoter regulation. Based on these results, we speculate that the human mitochondrial transcription system may have evolved to differentially regulate transcription initiation and transcription-primed mtDNA replication in response to the amount of h-mtTFA associated with nucleoids, which could begin to explain the heterogeneity of nucleoid structure and activity in vivo. Furthermore, this study sheds new light on the evolution of mitochondrial transcription components by showing that the human system is a regulated two-component system in vitro, and thus more akin to that of budding yeast than thought previously.

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