RNA polymerase SI3 domain modulates global transcriptional pausing and pause-site fluctuations

Nucleic Acids Res. 2024 Mar 30:gkae209. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkae209. Online ahead of print.


Transcriptional pausing aids gene regulation by cellular RNA polymerases (RNAPs). A surface-exposed domain inserted into the catalytic trigger loop (TL) of Escherichia coli RNAP, called SI3, modulates pausing and is essential for growth. Here we describe a viable E. coli strain lacking SI3 enabled by a suppressor TL substitution (β'Ala941→Thr; ΔSI3*). ΔSI3* increased transcription rate in vitro relative to ΔSI3, possibly explaining its viability, but retained both positive and negative effects of ΔSI3 on pausing. ΔSI3* inhibited pauses stabilized by nascent RNA structures (pause hairpins; PHs) but enhanced other pauses. Using NET-seq, we found that ΔSI3*-enhanced pauses resemble the consensus elemental pause sequence whereas sequences at ΔSI3*-suppressed pauses, which exhibited greater association with PHs, were more divergent. ΔSI3*-suppressed pauses also were associated with apparent pausing one nucleotide upstream from the consensus sequence, often generating tandem pause sites. These '-2 pauses' were stimulated by pyrophosphate in vitro and by addition of apyrase to degrade residual NTPs during NET-seq sample processing. We propose that some pauses are readily reversible by pyrophosphorolysis or single-nucleotide cleavage. Our results document multiple ways that SI3 modulates pausing in vivo and may explain discrepancies in consensus pause sequences in some NET-seq studies.