Causes and consequences of RNA polymerase II stalling during transcript elongation


The journey of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) as it transcribes a gene is anything but a smooth ride. Transcript elongation is discontinuous and can be perturbed by intrinsic regulatory barriers, such as promoter-proximal pausing, nucleosomes, RNA secondary structures and the underlying DNA sequence. More substantial blocking of Pol II translocation can be caused by other physiological circumstances and extrinsic obstacles, including other transcribing polymerases, the replication machinery and several types of DNA damage, such as bulky lesions and DNA double-strand breaks. Although numerous different obstacles cause Pol II stalling or arrest, the cell somehow distinguishes between them and invokes different mechanisms to resolve each roadblock. Resolution of Pol II blocking can be as straightforward as temporary backtracking and transcription elongation factor S-II (TFIIS)-dependent RNA cleavage, or as drastic as premature transcription termination or degradation of polyubiquitylated Pol II and its associated nascent RNA. In this Review, we discuss the current knowledge of how these different Pol II stalling contexts are distinguished by the cell, how they overlap with each other, how they are resolved and how, when unresolved, they can cause genome instability.

Journal details

Volume 22
Issue number 1
Pages 3-21
Available online
Publication date

Crick labs/facilities