Structural basis of transcription-translation coupling

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Science  11 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6509, pp. 1359-1365
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb5317

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Coupling transcription and translation

In bacteria, the rate of transcription of messenger RNA (mRNA) by RNA polymerase (RNAP) is coordinated with the rate of translation by the first ribosome behind RNAP on the mRNA. Two groups now present cryo–electron microscopy structures that show how two transcription elongation factors, NusG and NusA, participate in this coupling. Webster et al. found that NusG forms a bridge between RNAP and the ribosome when they are separated by mRNA. With shortened mRNA, NusG no longer links RNAP and the ribosome, but the two are oriented so that newly transcribed mRNA can enter the ribosome. Wang et al. provide further insight into the effect of mRNA length on the complex structures. They also include NusA and show that the NusG-bridged structure is stabilized by NusA.

Science, this issue p. 1355, p. 1359


In bacteria, transcription and translation are coupled processes in which the movement of RNA polymerase (RNAP)–synthesizing messenger RNA (mRNA) is coordinated with the movement of the first ribosome-translating mRNA. Coupling is modulated by the transcription factors NusG (which is thought to bridge RNAP and the ribosome) and NusA. Here, we report cryo–electron microscopy structures of Escherichia coli transcription-translation complexes (TTCs) containing different-length mRNA spacers between RNAP and the ribosome active-center P site. Structures of TTCs containing short spacers show a state incompatible with NusG bridging and NusA binding (TTC-A, previously termed “expressome”). Structures of TTCs containing longer spacers reveal a new state compatible with NusG bridging and NusA binding (TTC-B) and reveal how NusG bridges and NusA binds. We propose that TTC-B mediates NusG- and NusA-dependent transcription-translation coupling.

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