The transcription cycle can be roughly divided into three stages: initiation, elongation, and termination. Understanding the molecular events that regulate all these stages requires a dynamic view of the underlying processes. The development of techniques to visualize and quantify transcription in single living cells has been essential in revealing the transcription kinetics. They have revealed that (a) transcription is heterogeneous between cells and (b) transcription can be discontinuous within a cell. In this review, we discuss the progress in our quantitative understanding of transcription dynamics in living cells, focusing on all parts of the transcription cycle. We present the techniques allowing for single-cell transcription measurements, review evidence from different organisms, and discuss how these experiments have broadened our mechanistic understanding of transcription regulation.
Keywords: bursting; fluorescence; heterogeneity; imaging; kinetics; single-cell; single-molecule.