Context-dependent transcription: all politics is local

Gene. 2003 Aug 14;313:43-57. doi: 10.1016/s0378-1119(03)00627-9.


An organism ultimately reflects the coordinate expression of its genome. The misexpression of a gene can have catastrophic consequences for an organism, yet the mechanics of transcription is a local phenomenon within the cell nucleus. Chromosomal and nuclear position often dictate the activity of a specific gene. Transcription occurs in territories and in discrete localized foci within these territories. The proximity of a gene or trans-acting factor to heterochromatin can have profound functional significance. The organization of heterochromatin changes with cell development, thus conferring temporal changes on gene activity. The protein-protein interactions that engage the trans-acting factor also contribute to context-dependent transcription. Multi-protein assemblages known as enhanceosomes govern gene expression by local committee thus dictating regional transcription factor function. Local DNA architecture can prescribe enhancesome membership. The local bending of the double helix, typically mediated by architectural transcription factors, is often critical for stabilizing enhanceosomes formed from trans-acting proteins separated over small and large distances. The recognition element to which a transcription factor binds is of functional significance because DNA may act as an allosteric ligand influencing the conformation and thus the activity of the transactivation domain of the binding protein, as well as the recruitment of other proteins to the enhanceosome. Here, we review and attempt to integrate these local determinants of gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Euchromatin / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Heterochromatin / genetics
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics*


  • Euchromatin
  • Heterochromatin
  • Transcription Factors