Cell Biology

Transcription Without Borders

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Science  03 Oct 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5898, pp. 16-17
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5898.16d

In bacteria, genes encoding functionally related proteins are often grouped into coordinately regulated modules, one notable instance being the lactose operon. In mammals, the regulation of gene expression is thought to be controlled on an individual basis, such that specific proteins or RNAs bind to the regulatory elements of a single gene and activate or repress its transcription directly.

Using growth factors to induce transcription of immediate early genes (IEGs) in mammalian cells, Ebisuya et al. find that a gene that is being transcribed can incidentally activate the transcription of neighboring genes, enabling the coordinated expression of clusters of genes. Activation occurred via a ripple, which traveled both upstream and downstream from the IEG, and also passed through intergenic (non-protein coding) chromatin, resulting in the transcription of noncoding RNAs. Although protein-coding genes account for only 1.5% of the human genome, more than 70% of the DNA is transcribed. These results provide a potential explanation for this pervasive transcription, which may serve to propagate transcriptional activation into neighboring genes. — HP*

Nat. Cell Biol. 10, 1106 (2008).

  • *Helen Pickersgill is a locum editor in Science's editorial department.

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