RNA Polymerase II Promoters and Transcription Factors


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Illustration shows a series of transcription factors binding to the promoter, which is upstream of the gene. After all of the transcription factors are bound, R N A polymerase I I binds as well.
A generalized promoter of a gene transcribed by RNA polymerase II is shown. Transcription factors recognize the promoter. RNA polymerase II then binds and forms the transcription initiation complex. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

Eukaryotic promoters are much larger and more intricate than prokaryotic promoters. However, both have a sequence similar to the -10 sequence of prokaryotes. In eukaryotes, this sequence is called the TATA box, and has the consensus sequence TATAAA on the coding strand. It is located at -25 to -35 bases relative to the initiation (+1) site. This sequence is not identical to the E. coli -10 box, but it conserves the A–T rich element. The thermostability of A–T bonds is low and this helps the DNA template to locally unwind in preparation for transcription.

Instead of the simple σ factor that helps bind the prokaryotic RNA polymerase to its promoter, eukaryotes assemble a complex of transcription factors required to recruit RNA polymerase II to a protein coding gene. Transcription factors that bind to the promoter are called basal transcription factors. These basal factors are all called TFII (for Transcription Factor/polymerase II) plus an additional letter (A-J). The core complex is TFIID, which includes a TATA-binding protein (TBP). The other transcription factors systematically fall into place on the DNA template, with each one further stabilizing the pre-initiation complex and contributing to the recruitment of RNA polymerase II.

Some eukaryotic promoters also have a conserved CAAT box (GGCCAATCT) at approximately -80. Further upstream of the TATA box, eukaryotic promoters may also contain one or more GC-rich boxes (GGCG) or octamer boxes (ATTTGCAT). These elements bind cellular factors that increase the efficiency of transcription initiation and are often identified in more “active” genes that are constantly being expressed by the cell.

Basal transcription factors are crucial in the formation of a preinitiation complex on the DNA template that subsequently recruits RNA polymerase II for transcription initiation. The complexity of eukaryotic transcription does not end with the polymerases and promoters. An army of other transcription factors, which bind to upstream enhancers and silencers, also help to regulate the frequency with which pre-mRNA is synthesized from a gene. Enhancers and silencers affect the efficiency of transcription but are not necessary for transcription to proceed.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e