[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Mitochondrial RNA polymerases (MtRNAPs) are members of the single-subunit RNAP family, the most well-characterized member being the RNAP from T7 bacteriophage. MtRNAPs are, however, functionally distinct in that they depend on one or more transcription factors to recognize and open the promoter and initiate transcription, while the phage RNAPs are capable of performing these tasks alone. Since the transcriptional mechanisms that are conserved in phage and mitochondrial RNAPs have been so effectively characterized in the phage enzymes, outstanding structure-mechanism questions concern those aspects that are distinct in the MtRNAPs, particularly the role of the mitochondrial transcription factor(s). To address these questions we have used both negative staining and cryo-EM to generate three-dimensional reconstructions of yeast MtRNAP initiation complexes with and without the mitochondrial transcription factor (MTF1), and of the elongation complex. Together with biochemical experiments, these data indicate that MTF1 uses multiple mechanisms to drive promoter opening, and that its interactions with the MtRNAP regulate the conformational changes undergone by the latter enzyme as it traverses the template strand.
Nucleic Acids Research 09/2014; 42(17). DOI:10.1093/nar/gku795 · 9.11 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The single-subunit RNA polymerases make up a widespread family of proteins found in phage, mitochondria, and chloroplasts. Unlike the phage RNAPs, the eukaryotic RNAPs require accessory factors to melt their promoters and diverge from the phage RNAPs in the regions where functions associated with promoter melting in the latter have been mapped, suggesting that promoter melting mechanisms in the eukaryotic RNAPs diverge from those in the phage enzymes. However, here we show that an element in the yeast mitochondrial RNAP, identified by sequence alignment with the T7 phage RNAP, fulfills a role in promoter melting similar to that filled by the T7RNAP "intercalating hairpin". The yeast mitochondrial RNAP intercalating hairpin appears to be as important in promoter melting as the mitochondrial transcription factor, MTF1, and both a structurally integral hairpin and MTF1 are required to achieve high levels of transcription on a duplex promoter. Deletions from the hairpin also relieve MTF1 inhibition of promoter escape on premelted promoters, likely because such deletions disrupt interactions with the upstream edge of the transcription bubble. These results are consistent with recent structural and functional studies of human mitochondrial RNAP and further reveal the surprising extent of mechanistic conservation between the eukaryotic and phage-encoded members of the single-subunit RNAP family.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Yeast mitochondrial (YMt) and phage T7 RNA polymerases (RNAPs) are two divergent representatives of a large family of single subunit RNAPs that are also found in the mitochondria and chloroplasts of higher eukaryotes, mammalian nuclei, and many other bacteriophage. YMt and phage T7 promoters differ greatly in sequence and length, and the YMt RNAP uses an accessory factor for initiation, whereas T7 RNAP does not. We obtain evidence here that, despite these apparent differences, both the YMt and T7 RNAPs utilize a similar promoter recognition loop to bind their respective promoters. Mutations in this element in YMt RNAP specifically disrupt mitochondrial promoter utilization, and experiments with site-specifically tethered chemical nucleases indicate that this element binds the mitochondrial promoter almost identically to how the promoter recognition loop from the phage RNAP binds its promoter. Sequence comparisons reveal that the other members of the single subunit RNAP family display loops of variable sequence and size at a position corresponding to the YMt and T7 RNAP promoter recognition loops. We speculate that these elements may be involved in promoter recognition in most or all of these enzymes and that this element's structure allows it to accommodate significant sequence and length variation to provide a mechanism for rapid evolution of new promoter specificities in this RNAP family.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The T7RNA polymerase (RNAP) elongation complex (EC) pauses and is destabilized at a unique 8 nucleotide (nt) sequence found at the junction of the head-to-tail concatemers of T7 genomic DNA generated during T7 DNA replication. The paused EC may recruit the T7 DNA processing machinery, which cleaves the concatemerized DNA within this 8 nt concatemer junction (CJ). Pausing of the EC at the CJ involves structural changes in both the RNAP and transcription bubble. However, these structural changes have not been fully defined, nor is it understood how the CJ sequence itself causes the EC to change its structure, to pause, and to become less stable. Here we use solution and RNAP-tethered chemical nucleases to probe the CJ transcript and changes in the EC structure as the polymerase pauses and terminates at the CJ. Together with extensive mutational scanning of regions of the polymerase that are likely to be involved in recognition of the CJ, we are able to develop a description of the events that occur as the EC transcribes through the CJ and subsequently pauses. In this process, a local change in the structure of the transcription bubble drives a large change in the architecture of the EC. This altered EC structure may then serve as the signal that recruits the processing machinery to the CJ.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Bacteriophage T7 RNA polymerase is the best-characterized member of a widespread family of single-subunit RNA polymerases. Crystal structures of T7 RNA polymerase initiation and elongation complexes have provided a wealth of detailed information on RNA polymerase interactions with the promoter and transcription bubble, but the absence of DNA downstream of the melted region of the template in the initiation complex structure, and the absence of DNA upstream of the transcription bubble in the elongation complex structure means that our picture of the functional architecture of T7 RNA polymerase transcription complexes remains incomplete. Here, we use the site-specifically tethered chemical nucleases and functional characterization of directed T7 RNAP mutants to both reveal the architecture of the duplex DNA that flanks the transcription bubble in the T7 RNAP initiation and elongation complexes, and to define the function of the interactions made by these duplex elements. We find that downstream duplex interactions made with a cluster of lysine residues (K711/K713/K714) are present during both elongation and initiation, where they contribute to stabilizing a bend in the downstream DNA that is important for promoter opening. The upstream DNA in the elongation complex is also found to be sharply bent at the upstream edge of the transcription bubble, thereby allowing formation of upstream duplex:polymerase interactions that contribute to elongation complex stability.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Studies of halted T7 RNA polymerase (T7RNAP) elongation complexes (ECs) or of T7RNAP transcription against roadblocks due to DNA-bound proteins indicate that T7RNAP translocates via a passive Brownian ratchet mechanism. Crystal structures of T7RNAP ECs suggest that translocation involves an active power-stroke. However, neither solution studies of halted or slowed T7RNAP ECs, nor crystal structures of static complexes, are necessarily relevant to how T7RNAP translocates during rapid elongation. A recent single molecule study of actively elongating T7RNAPs provides support for the Brownian ratchet mechanism. Here, we obtain additional evidence for the existence of a Brownian ratchet during active T7RNAP elongation by showing that both rapidly elongating and halted complexes are equally sensitive to pyrophosphate. Using chemical nucleases tethered to the polymerase we achieve sub-ångström resolution in measuring the average position of halted T7RNAP ECs and find that the positional equilibrium of the EC is sensitively poised between pre-translocated and post-translocated states. This may be important in maximizing the sensitivity of the polymerase to sequences that cause pausing or termination. We also confirm that a crystallographically observed disorder to order transition in a loop formed by residues 589-612 also occurs in solution and is coupled to pyrophosphate or NTP release. This transition allows the loop to make interactions with the DNA that help stabilize the laterally mobile, ligand-free EC against dissociation.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: During transcription initiation conformational changes in the transcriptional machinery are required to accommodate the growing RNA, to allow the polymerase to release the promoter, and to endow the elongation complex with high processivity. In T7 RNA polymerase these changes involve refolding and reorientation of elements of the N-terminal domain, as well as changes in how the DNA is bound within the complex. However, when and where these conformational changes occur is unknown, and the role of these changes in allowing the polymerase to disengage the promoter is poorly understood. To address this we have used chemical nucleases tethered to the polymerase to monitor conformational changes, and engineered disulfide bonds to block conformational changes at defined steps in transcription. We find that many of the major structural transitions occur cooperatively, at a point coincident with promoter release. Moreover, promoter release requires that two elements of the polymerase which form a continuous promoter recognition surface in the initial transcription complex move apart: if this movement is blocked the polymerase cannot disengage the promoter.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: During transcription initiation, RNA polymerases retain interactions with their promoters until the RNA is extended to 8-13 nucleotides, at which point the polymerase releases the promoter and moves downstream. It has been shown that release of the T7 promoter is inhibited when the T7 RNA polymerase-promoter interaction is strengthened. Here we asked whether release would be facilitated when the T7 promoter-polymerase interaction is weakened by the introduction of promoter mutations known to reduce promoter activity. Using chemical and enzymatic probes to monitor the position of the polymerase as a function of RNA length, we found that promoter mutations upstream of -4 facilitated release of the polymerase from the promoter, but more downstream mutations did not have such effects. We also found that released complexes turn over more slowly than promoter-bound complexes, indicating that retention of promoter interactions contributes to the dissociation of short RNAs during initial transcription.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transcription initiation begins with recruitment of an RNA polymerase to a promoter. Polymerase-promoter interactions are retained until the nascent RNA is extended to 8-12 nucleotides. It has been proposed that accumulation of "strain" in the transcription complex and RNA displacement of promoter-polymerase interactions contribute to releasing the polymerase from the promoter, and it has been further speculated that too strong a promoter interaction can inhibit the release step, whereas a weak interaction may facilitate release. We examined the effects of partial deletion of the nontemplate strand on release of T7 RNA polymerase from the T7 promoter. T7 polymerase will initiate from such partially single-stranded promoters but binds them with higher affinity than duplex promoters. We found that release on partially single-stranded promoters is strongly inhibited. The inhibition of release is not due to an indirect effect on transcription complex structure or loss of specific polymerase-nontemplate strand interactions, because release on partially single-stranded templates is recovered if the interaction with the promoter is weakened by a promoter base substitution. This same substitution also appears to allow the polymerase to escape more readily from a duplex promoter. Our results further suggest that template-nontemplate strand reannealing drives dissociation of abortive transcripts during initial transcription and that loss of interactions with either the nontemplate strand or duplex DNA downstream of the RNA lead to increased transcription complex slippage during initiation.