Unlike transcription initiation and termination, which have easily discernable signals, such as promoters and terminators, elongation is regulated through a dynamic network involving RNA/DNA pause signals and states-rather than sequence-specific protein interactions. A report by Nedialkov et al. () provides experimental evidence for sequence-specific recruitment of elongation factor RfaH to transcribing RNA polymerase (RNAP) and outlines the mechanism of gene expression regulation by restraint ('locking') of the DNA non-template strand. According to this model, the elongation complex pauses at the so called 'operon polarity sequence' (found in some long bacterial operons coding for virulence genes), when the usually flexible non-template DNA strand adopts a distinct hairpin-loop conformation on the surface of transcribing RNAP. Sequence-specific binding of RfaH to this DNA segment facilitates conversion of RfaH from its inactive closed to its active open conformation. The interaction network formed between RfaH, non-template DNA and RNAP locks DNA in a conformation that renders RNAP resistant to pausing and termination. The effects of such locking on elongation can be mimicked by restraint of the non-template strand due to its shortening. This work advances our understanding of transcription regulation and has important implications for the action of general elongation factors, such as NusG, which lack apparent sequence-specificity, as well as for the mechanisms of other linked processes, such as transcription-coupled DNA repair.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.