Fluorogenic RNA aptamers to probe transcription initiation and co-transcriptional RNA folding by multi-subunit RNA polymerases

Methods Enzymol. 2022:675:207-233. doi: 10.1016/bs.mie.2022.07.010. Epub 2022 Aug 19.


Transcription is the first and most highly regulated step in gene expression. Experimental techniques for monitoring transcription are, thus, important for studying gene expression and gene regulation as well as for translational research and drug development. Fluorescence methods are often superior to other techniques for real-time monitoring of biochemical processes. Green fluorescent proteins have long served as valuable tools for studying the process of translation. Here we present two methods that utilize fluorescent light-up RNA aptamers (FLAPs), the RNA mimics of green fluorescent proteins, to monitoring transcription and co-transcriptional RNA folding. FLAPs adopt defined three-dimensional folds that bind low molecular weight compounds called fluorogens with concomitant increase in fluorescence by many folds. FLAPs provide a strong fluorescence signal with low background that allows monitoring of transcription in real time in vitro and in vivo. However, it takes several seconds for RNA polymerase to synthesize FLAPs and the subsequent folding of the fluorogen-binding platform takes additional seconds or minutes. Here we show that Broccoli-FLAP is well suited for monitoring the rate of transcription initiation in a multi-round setup that mitigates the slow rate of the FLAP maturation. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a relatively slow and inefficient folding of iSpinach-FLAP can be taken advantage of for monitoring the action of RNA folding chaperones.

Keywords: Broccoli-FLAP; Co-transcriptional RNA folding; Fluorescence spectroscopy; Fluorescent light-up RNA aptamers; Multi-subunit RNA polymerase; Transcription factors; Transcription initiation; iSpinach-FLAP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aptamers, Nucleotide* / chemistry
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • RNA
  • RNA Folding


  • Aptamers, Nucleotide
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • RNA
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases