Real-time dynamics of RNA polymerase II clustering in live human cells

Science. 2013 Aug 9;341(6146):664-7. doi: 10.1126/science.1239053. Epub 2013 Jul 4.


Transcription is reported to be spatially compartmentalized in nuclear transcription factories with clusters of RNA polymerase II (Pol II). However, little is known about when these foci assemble or their relative stability. We developed a quantitative single-cell approach to characterize protein spatiotemporal organization, with single-molecule sensitivity in live eukaryotic cells. We observed that Pol II clusters form transiently, with an average lifetime of 5.1 (± 0.4) seconds, which refutes the notion that they are statically assembled substructures. Stimuli affecting transcription yielded orders-of-magnitude changes in the dynamics of Pol II clusters, which implies that clustering is regulated and plays a role in the cell's ability to effect rapid response to external signals. Our results suggest that transient crowding of enzymes may aid in rate-limiting steps of gene regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Elongation, Genetic / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Flavonoids
  • Piperidines
  • alvocidib
  • RNA Polymerase II