Mitochondrial transcription initiation: promoter structures and RNA polymerases

Curr Genet. 1995 Aug;28(3):205-16. doi: 10.1007/BF00309779.


A diversity of promoter structures. It is evident that tremendous diversity exists between the modes of mitochondrial transcription initiation in the different eukaryotic kingdoms, at least in terms of promoter structures. Within vertebrates, a single promoter for each strand exists, which may be unidirectional or bidirectional. In fungi and plants, multiple promoters are found, and in each case, both the extent and the primary sequences of promoters are distinct. Promoter multiplicity in fungi, plants and trypanosomes reflects the larger genome size and scattering of genes relative to animals. However, the dual roles of certain promoters in transcription and replication, at least in yeast, raises the interesting question of how the relative amounts of RNA versus DNA synthesis are regulated, possibly via cis-elements downstream from the promoters. Mitochondrial RNA polymerases. With respect to mitochondrial RNA polymerases, characterization of human, mouse, Xenopus and yeast enzymes suggests a marked degree of conservation in their behavior and protein composition. In general, these systems consist of a relatively non-selective core enzyme, which itself is unable to recognize promoters, and at least one dissociable specificity factor, which confers selectivity to the core subunit. In most of these systems, components of the RNA polymerase have been shown to induce a conformational change in their respective promoters and have also been assigned the role of a primase in the replication of mtDNA. While studies of the yeast RNA polymerase have suggested it has both eubacterial (mtTFB) and bacteriophage (RPO41) origins, it is not yet clear whether these characteristics will be conserved in the mitochondrial RNA polymerases of all eukaryotes. mtTFA-mtTFB; conserved but dissimilar functions. With respect to transcription factors, mtTFA has been found in both vertebrates and yeast, and may be a ubiquitous protein in mitochondria. However, the divergence in non-HMG portions of the proteins, combined with differences in promoter structure, has apparently relegated mtTFA to alternative, or at least non-identical, physiological roles in vertebrates and fungi. The relative ease with which mtTFA can be purified (Fisher et al. 1991) suggests that, where present, it should be facile to detect. mtTFB may represent a eubacterial sigma factor adapted for interaction with the mitochondrial RNA polymerase.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • DNA, Fungal / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA, Plant / genetics
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • DNA, Fungal
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA, Plant
  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases