Research Article

Structure of the human Mediator-bound transcription preinitiation complex

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Science  02 Apr 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6537, pp. 52-56
DOI: 10.1126/science.abg3074

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Mediating transcription

The Mediator complex is recruited by transcription factors to all protein-coding genes in eukaryotes and helps to assemble the machinery necessary to transcribe the gene. Abdella et al. present the cryo–electron microscopy structure of the human Mediator-bound preinitiation complex (Med-PIC). The structure shows how Mediator positions the long, flexible C-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II to be phosphorylated by the kinase CDK7, a crucial step for further processing of the RNA into a mature RNA. Most sites where transcription factors bind to Mediator are flexibly tethered to the complex, allowing the large Med-PIC to assemble at any gene.

Science, this issue p. 52


Eukaryotic transcription requires the assembly of a multisubunit preinitiation complex (PIC) composed of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and the general transcription factors. The coactivator Mediator is recruited by transcription factors, facilitates the assembly of the PIC, and stimulates phosphorylation of the Pol II C-terminal domain (CTD) by the TFIIH subunit CDK7. Here, we present the cryo–electron microscopy structure of the human Mediator-bound PIC at a resolution below 4 angstroms. Transcription factor binding sites within Mediator are primarily flexibly tethered to the tail module. CDK7 is stabilized by multiple contacts with Mediator. Two binding sites exist for the Pol II CTD, one between the head and middle modules of Mediator and the other in the active site of CDK7, providing structural evidence for Pol II CTD phosphorylation within the Mediator-bound PIC.

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