Journal of molecular biology

Coupling of downstream RNA polymerase-promoter interactions with formation of catalytically competent transcription initiation complex.

PMID 25311862


Bacterial RNA polymerase (RNAP) makes extensive contacts with duplex DNA downstream of the transcription bubble in initiation and elongation complexes. We investigated the role of downstream interactions in formation of catalytically competent transcription initiation complex by measuring initiation activity of stable RNAP complexes with model promoter DNA fragments whose downstream ends extend from +3 to +21 relative to the transcription start site at +1. We found that DNA downstream of position +6 does not play a significant role in transcription initiation when RNAP-promoter interactions upstream of the transcription start site are strong and promoter melting region is AT rich. Further shortening of downstream DNA dramatically reduces efficiency of transcription initiation. The boundary of minimal downstream DNA duplex needed for efficient transcription initiation shifted further away from the catalytic center upon increasing the GC content of promoter melting region or in the presence of bacterial stringent response regulators DksA and ppGpp. These results indicate that the strength of RNAP-downstream DNA interactions has to reach a certain threshold to retain the catalytically competent conformation of the initiation complex and that establishment of contacts between RNAP and downstream DNA can be coupled with promoter melting. The data further suggest that RNAP interactions with DNA immediately downstream of the transcription bubble are particularly important for initiation of transcription. We hypothesize that these active center-proximal contacts stabilize the DNA template strand in the active center cleft and/or position the RNAP clamp domain to allow RNA synthesis.