Open complex scrunching before nucleotide addition accounts for the unusual transcription start site of E. coli ribosomal RNA promoters

Research paper by Jared T. Winkelman, Pete Chandrangsu, Wilma Ross, Richard L. Gourse

Indexed on: 18 Mar '16Published on: 14 Mar '16Published in: PNAS


Most Escherichia coli promoters initiate transcription with a purine 7 or 8 nt downstream from the –10 hexamer, but some promoters, including the ribosomal RNA promoter rrnB P1, start 9 nt from the –10 element. We identified promoter and RNA polymerase determinants of this noncanonical rrnB P1 start site using biochemical and genetic approaches including mutational analysis of the promoter, Fe2+ cleavage assays to monitor template strand positions near the active-site, and Bpa cross-linking to map the path of open complex DNA at amino acid and nucleotide resolution. We find that mutations in several promoter regions affect transcription start site (TSS) selection. In particular, we show that the absence of strong interactions between the discriminator region and σ region 1.2 and between the extended –10 element and σ region 3.0, identified previously as a determinant of proper regulation of rRNA promoters, is also required for the unusual TSS. We find that the DNA in the single-stranded transcription bubble of the rrnB P1 promoter complex expands and is “scrunched” into the active site channel of RNA polymerase, similar to the situation in initial transcribing complexes. However, in the rrnB P1 open complex, scrunching occurs before RNA synthesis begins. We find that the scrunched open complex exhibits reduced abortive product synthesis, suggesting that scrunching and unusual TSS selection contribute to the extraordinary transcriptional activity of rRNA promoters by increasing promoter escape, helping to offset the reduction in promoter activity that would result from the weak interactions with σ.