[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transcriptional pausing by RNA polymerase (RNAP) plays an essential role in gene regulation. Pausing is modified by various elongation factors, including prokaryotic NusA, but the mechanisms underlying pausing and NusA function remain unclear. Alternative models for pausing invoke blockade events that precede translocation (on-pathway), enzyme backtracking (off-pathway), or isomerization to a nonbacktracked, elemental pause state (off-pathway). We employed an optical trapping assay to probe the motions of individual RNAP molecules transcribing a DNA template carrying tandem repeats encoding the his pause, subjecting these enzymes to controlled forces. NusA significantly decreased the pause-free elongation rate of RNAP while increasing the probability of entry into short- and long-lifetime pauses, in a manner equivalent to exerting a ~19 pN force opposing transcription. The effects of force and NusA on pause probabilities and lifetimes support a reaction scheme where nonbacktracked, elemental pauses branch off the elongation pathway from the pretranslocated state of RNAP.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: NusA is a core, multidomain regulator of transcript elongation in bacteria and archaea. Bacterial NusA interacts with elongating complexes and the nascent RNA transcript in ways that stimulate pausing and termination but that can be switched to antipausing and antitermination by other accessory proteins. This regulatory complexity of NusA likely depends on its multidomain structure, but it remains unclear which NusA domains possess which regulatory activity and how they interact with elongating RNA polymerase. We used a series of truncated NusA proteins to measure the effect of the NusA domains on transcriptional pausing and termination. We find that the N-terminal domain (NTD) of NusA is necessary and sufficient for enhancement of transcriptional pausing and that the other NusA domains contribute to NusA binding to elongating complexes. Stimulation of intrinsic termination requires higher concentrations of NusA and involves both the NTD and other NusA domains. Using a tethered chemical protease in addition to protein-RNA cross-linking, we show that the NusA NTD contacts the RNA exit channel of RNA polymerase. Finally, we report evidence that the NusA NTD recognizes duplex RNA in the RNA exit channel.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We have identified minimal nucleic acid scaffolds capable of reconstituting hairpin-stabilized paused transcription complexes when incubated with RNAP either directly or in a limited step reconstitution assay. Direct reconstitution was achieved using a 29-nucleotide (nt) RNA whose 3'-proximal 9-10 nt pair to template DNA within an 11-nt noncomplementary bubble of a 39-bp duplex DNA; the 5'-proximal 18 nt of RNA forms the his pause RNA hairpin. Limited-step reconstitution was achieved on the same DNAs using a 27-nt RNA that can be 3'-labeled during reconstitution and then extended 2 nt past the pause site to assay transcriptional pausing. Paused complexes formed by either method recapitulated key features of a promoter-initiated, hairpin-stabilized paused complex, including a slow rate of pause escape, resistance to transcript cleavage and pyrophosphorolysis, and enhancement of pausing by the elongation factor NusA. These findings establish that RNA upstream from the pause hairpin and pyrophosphate are not essential for pausing and for NusA action. Reconstitution of the his paused transcription complex provides a valuable tool for future studies of protein-nucleic interactions involved in transcriptional pausing.