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The effect of macromolecular crowding on single-round transcription by E. coli RNA polymerase

By Sang Yoon Chung, Eitan Lerner, Yan Jin, Soohong Kim, Yazan Alhadid, Logan Wilson Grimaud, Irina X. Zhang, Charles M. Knobler, William M. Gelbart, Shimon Weiss

Posted 12 Nov 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/218321 (published DOI: 10.1093/nar/gky1277)

Biological reactions in the cellular environment differ physicochemically from those performed in dilute buffer solutions due to, in part, slower diffusion of various components in the cellular milieu, increase in their chemical activities, and modulation of their binding affinities and conformational stabilities. In vivo transcription is therefore expected to be strongly influenced by the 'crowdedness' of the cell. Previous studies of transcription under macromolecular crowding conditions have focused mainly on multiple cycles of RNAP-Promoter associations, assuming that the association is the rate-determining step of the entire transcription process. However, recent reports demonstrated that late initiation and promoter escape could be the rate-determining steps for some promoter DNA sequences. The investigation of crowding effects on these steps under single-round conditions is therefore crucial for better understanding of transcription initiation in vivo. Here, we have implemented an in vitro transcription quenched-kinetics single-molecule assay to investigate the dependence of transcription reaction rates on the sizes and concentrations of crowders. Our results demonstrate an expected slowdown of transcription kinetics due to increased viscosity, and an unexpected enhancement in transcription kinetics by large crowding agents (at a given viscosity). More importantly, the enhancement's dependence on crowder size significantly deviates from hard-sphere model (scaled-particle theory) predictions, commonly used for description of crowding effects. Our findings shed new light on how enzymatic reactions are affected by crowding conditions in the cellular milieu.

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