The Structures of Eukaryotic Transcription Pre-initiation Complexes and Their Functional Implications

Subcell Biochem. 2019;93:143-192. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-28151-9_5.


Transcription is a highly regulated process that supplies living cells with coding and non-coding RNA molecules. Failure to properly regulate transcription is associated with human pathologies, including cancers. RNA polymerase II is the enzyme complex that synthesizes messenger RNAs that are then translated into proteins. In spite of its complexity, RNA polymerase requires a plethora of general transcription factors to be recruited to the transcription start site as part of a large transcription pre-initiation complex, and to help it gain access to the transcribed strand of the DNA. This chapter reviews the structure and function of these eukaryotic transcription pre-initiation complexes, with a particular emphasis on two of its constituents, the multisubunit complexes TFIID and TFIIH. We also compare the overall architecture of the RNA polymerase II pre-initiation complex with those of RNA polymerases I and III, involved in transcription of ribosomal RNA and non-coding RNAs such as tRNAs and snRNAs, and discuss the general, conserved features that are applicable to all eukaryotic RNA polymerase systems.

Keywords: Cryo-electron microscopy; Gene expression; General transcription factors; Initiation; RNA polymerase; Structural biology; TFIID; TFIIH; Transcription.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Eukaryota / chemistry*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Multiprotein Complexes / chemistry*
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism
  • Transcription Factor TFIID / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factor TFIIH / metabolism*
  • Transcription Initiation, Genetic*


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Transcription Factor TFIID
  • Transcription Factor TFIIH
  • RNA Polymerase II