Synthetic transcription elongation factors license transcription across repressive chromatin

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Science  22 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6370, pp. 1617-1622
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan6414

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Chemical control of transcription

Friedreich's ataxia, a devastating neurodegenerative disease with no effective therapy, is caused by an expansion of intronic repeats and hence a reduced expression of the FXN gene. Erwin et al. synthesized a molecule that specifically targets the expanded repressive repeats. This molecule thereby licenses productive transcription elongation and restores FXN expression to normal levels. In the future, similar interventions may be effective in a diverse array of diseases caused by unstable expansions in microsatellite repeats.

Science, this issue p. 1617


The release of paused RNA polymerase II into productive elongation is highly regulated, especially at genes that affect human development and disease. To exert control over this rate-limiting step, we designed sequence-specific synthetic transcription elongation factors (Syn-TEFs). These molecules are composed of programmable DNA-binding ligands flexibly tethered to a small molecule that engages the transcription elongation machinery. By limiting activity to targeted loci, Syn-TEFs convert constituent modules from broad-spectrum inhibitors of transcription into gene-specific stimulators. Here we present Syn-TEF1, a molecule that actively enables transcription across repressive GAA repeats that silence frataxin expression in Friedreich’s ataxia, a terminal neurodegenerative disease with no effective therapy. The modular design of Syn-TEF1 defines a general framework for developing a class of molecules that license transcription elongation at targeted genomic loci.

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