Regulating the regulators: the pervasive effects of Pol II pausing on stimulus-responsive gene networks.

Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.
Genes & development (Impact Factor: 12.64). 05/2012; 26(9):933-44. DOI: 10.1101/gad.187781.112
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The expression of many metazoan genes is regulated through controlled release of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) that has paused during early transcription elongation. Pausing is highly enriched at genes in stimulus-responsive pathways, where it has been proposed to poise downstream targets for rapid gene activation. However, whether this represents the major function of pausing in these pathways remains to be determined. To address this question, we analyzed pausing within several stimulus-responsive networks in Drosophila and discovered that paused Pol II is much more prevalent at genes encoding components and regulators of signal transduction cascades than at inducible downstream targets. Within immune-responsive pathways, we found that pausing maintains basal expression of critical network hubs, including the key NF-κB transcription factor that triggers gene activation. Accordingly, loss of pausing through knockdown of the pause-inducing factor NELF leads to broadly attenuated immune gene activation. Investigation of murine embryonic stem cells revealed that pausing is similarly widespread at genes encoding signaling components that regulate self-renewal, particularly within the MAPK/ERK pathway. We conclude that the role of pausing goes well beyond poising-inducible genes for activation and propose that the primary function of paused Pol II is to establish basal activity of signal-responsive networks.

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    ABSTRACT: The remarkable capacity for pluripotency and self-renewal in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) requires a finely tuned transcriptional circuitry wherein the pathways and genes that initiate differentiation are suppressed, but poised to respond rapidly to developmental signals. To elucidate transcriptional control in mouse ESCs in the naive, ground state, we defined the distribution of engaged RNA polymerase II (Pol II) at high resolution. We find that promoter-proximal pausing of Pol II is most enriched at genes regulating cell cycle and signal transduction and not, as expected, at developmental or bivalent genes. Accordingly, ablation of the primary pause-inducing factor NELF does not increase expression of lineage markers, but instead causes proliferation defects, embryonic lethality, and dysregulation of ESC signaling pathways. Indeed, ESCs lacking NELF have dramatically attenuated FGF/ERK activity, rendering them resistant to differentiation. This work thus uncovers a key role for NELF-mediated pausing in establishing the responsiveness of stem cells to developmental cues. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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