The RNA-DNA hybrid maintains the register of transcription by preventing backtracking of RNA polymerase

Cell. 1997 Apr 4;89(1):33-41. doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(00)80180-4.


An 8-9 bp RNA-DNA hybrid in the transcription elongation complex is essential for keeping the RNA 3' terminus engaged with the active site of E. coli RNA polymerase (RNAP). Destabilization of the hybrid leads to detachment of the transcript terminus, RNAP backtracking, and shifting of the hybrid upstream. Eventually, the exposed 3' segment of RNA can be removed through transcript cleavage. At certain sites, cycles of unwinding-rewinding of the hybrid are coupled to reverse-forward sliding of the transcription elongation complex. This explains apparent discontinuous elongation, which was previously interpreted as contraction and expansion of an RNAP molecule (inch-worming). Thus, the 3'-proximal RNA-DNA hybrid plays the dual role of keeping the active site in register with the template and sensing the helix-destabilizing mismatches in RNA, launching correction through backtracking and cleavage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Heteroduplexes / chemistry
  • Nucleic Acid Heteroduplexes / genetics*
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics*


  • Nucleic Acid Heteroduplexes
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases