Real-time observation of polymerase-promoter contact remodeling during transcription initiation

Nat Commun. 2017 Oct 27;8(1):1178. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-01041-1.


Critical contacts made between the RNA polymerase (RNAP) holoenzyme and promoter DNA modulate not only the strength of promoter binding, but also the frequency and timing of promoter escape during transcription. Here, we describe a single-molecule optical-trapping assay to study transcription initiation in real time, and use it to map contacts formed between σ70 RNAP holoenzyme from E. coli and the T7A1 promoter, as well as to observe the remodeling of those contacts during the transition to the elongation phase. The strong binding contacts identified in certain well-known promoter regions, such as the -35 and -10 elements, do not necessarily coincide with the most highly conserved portions of these sequences. Strong contacts formed within the spacer region (-10 to -35) and with the -10 element are essential for initiation and promoter escape, respectively, and the holoenzyme releases contacts with promoter elements in a non-sequential fashion during escape.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Holoenzymes / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Protein Binding
  • Sigma Factor / genetics
  • Transcription Initiation, Genetic*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Holoenzymes
  • Sigma Factor
  • DNA
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases