The Structures of Eukaryotic Transcription Pre-initiation Complexes and Their Functional Implications

  • Basil J. GreberEmail author
  • Eva Nogales
Part of the Subcellular Biochemistry book series (SCBI, volume 93)


Transcription is a highly regulated process that supplies living cells with coding and non-coding RNA molecules. Failure to properly regulate transcription is associated with human pathologies, including cancers. RNA polymerase II is the enzyme complex that synthesizes messenger RNAs that are then translated into proteins. In spite of its complexity, RNA polymerase requires a plethora of general transcription factors to be recruited to the transcription start site as part of a large transcription pre-initiation complex, and to help it gain access to the transcribed strand of the DNA. This chapter reviews the structure and function of these eukaryotic transcription pre-initiation complexes, with a particular emphasis on two of its constituents, the multisubunit complexes TFIID and TFIIH. We also compare the overall architecture of the RNA polymerase II pre-initiation complex with those of RNA polymerases I and III, involved in transcription of ribosomal RNA and non-coding RNAs such as tRNAs and snRNAs, and discuss the general, conserved features that are applicable to all eukaryotic RNA polymerase systems.


Transcription Initiation General transcription factors TFIIH TFIID RNA polymerase Gene expression Structural biology Cryo-electron microscopy 



Molecular depictions were created using UCSF Chimera (Pettersen et al. 2004) and PyMol (The PyMOL Molecular Graphics System, Version 1.8, Schrödinger, LLC.). This work was funded through NIGMS grant R35-GM127018 to E. N; B. J. G. was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (projects P300PA-160983 and P300PA-174355). E. N. is a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3)University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Molecular Biophysics and Integrative Bio-Imaging Division, Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Howard Hughes Medical InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  4. 4.Department of Molecular and Cell BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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