RNA polymerase II-like enzymes carry out transcription of genomes in Eukaryota, Archaea, and some viruses. They also exhibit fundamental similarity to RNA polymerases from bacteria, chloroplasts, and mitochondria. In this review we take an inventory of recent studies illuminating different steps of basic transcription mechanism, likely common for most multi-subunit RNA polymerases. Through the amalgamation of structural and computational chemistry data we attempt to highlight the most feasible reaction pathway for the two-metal nucleotidyl transfer mechanism, and to evaluate the way catalysis can be linked to translocation in the mechano-chemical cycle catalyzed by RNA polymerase II. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: RNA polymerase II Transcript Elongation.
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