Transcription initiation starts with unwinding of promoter DNA by RNA polymerase (RNAP) to form a catalytically competent RNAP-promoter complex (RPo). Despite extensive study, the mechanism of promoter unwinding has remained unclear, in part due to the transient nature of intermediates on path to RPo. Here, using single-molecule unwinding-induced fluorescence enhancement to monitor promoter unwinding, and single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer to monitor RNAP clamp conformation, we analyse RPo formation at a consensus bacterial core promoter. We find that the RNAP clamp is closed during promoter binding, remains closed during promoter unwinding, and then closes further, locking the unwound DNA in the RNAP activecentre cleft. Our work defines a new, ‘bind-unwind-load-and-lock’, model for the series of conformational changes occurring during promoter unwinding at a consensus bacterial promoter and provides the tools needed to examine the process in other organisms and at other promoters.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)