RNA Chain Initiation and Promoter Escape by RNA Polymerase

  • Michael J. Chamberlin
  • Lilian M. Hsu


The efficiency of promoter function is determined by two distinct phases of transcription, promoter binding and activation, and RNA chain initiation and promoter escape. The former process has been extensively studied in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms, and involves interaction of the RNA polymerase with general transcription factors, promoter specific factors, and with the DNA sequences in the recognition region of the promoter (for reviews see refs. 1–4). The latter process has generally been overlooked, and is often subtended into the promoter binding phase by use of the general term “initiation” to include both promoter binding and RNA chain initiation. However, it has been recognized for over 25 years that the two phases are distinct. Hence, true RNA chain initiation has, in some ways, become the lost step in transcription. The promoter binding and activation process can normally be completed in the absence of the nucleoside triphosphate substrates.5 Similarly, the RNA chain initiation and promoter escape phase is a biochemically distinct process, and is controlled and regulated by DNA sequences and factors that have no similar role in promoter binding. These sequences and factors can affect promoter strength considerably,6,7 and can lead to regulation that is independent of the promoter binding step.8–11


Initiation Reaction Promoter Binding Productive Transcript Sigma Subunit Open Promoter Complex 
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© R.G. Landes Company 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Chamberlin
  • Lilian M. Hsu

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