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In Vitro Transcription Assays and Their Application in Drug Discovery

Published: September 20th, 2016



1School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, 2Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology, The State Key Laboratory of Chirosciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

In this manuscript, we describe a protocol to functionally examine transcription and the inhibitory activity of antibacterial agents targeting bacterial transcription.

In vitro transcription assays have been developed and widely used for many years to study the molecular mechanisms involved in transcription. This process requires multi-subunit DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RNAP) and a series of transcription factors that act to modulate the activity of RNAP during gene expression. Sequencing gel electrophoresis of radiolabeled transcripts is used to provide detailed mechanistic information on how transcription proceeds and what parameters can affect it. In this paper we describe the protocol to study how the essential elongation factor NusA regulates transcriptional pausing, as well as a method to identify an antibacterial agent targeting transcription initiation through inhibition of RNAP holoenzyme formation. These methods can be used a as platform for the development of additional approaches to explore the mechanism of action of the transcription factors which still remain unclear, as well as new antibacterial agents targeting transcription which is an underutilized drug target in antibiotic research and development.

Transcription is the process in which RNA is synthesized from a specific DNA template. In eukaryotic cells there are three distinct RNAPs: RNAP I transcribes rRNA precursors, RNAP II is responsible for the synthesis of mRNA and certain small nuclear RNAs, and the synthesis of 5S rRNA and tRNA is performed by RNAP III. In bacteria, there is only one RNAP responsible for the transcription of all classes of RNA. There are three stages of transcription: initiation, elongation and termination. Transcription is one of the most highly regulated processes in the cell. Each stage in the transcription cycle represents a checkpoint for the regulation of gene expression<....

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Caution: Experiments involve the use of the radioactive isotope 32P and no work should be undertaken until all appropriate safety conditions have been met. Generally personnel are required to attend a safety course and undergo supervised practice prior to experiments using radioactive reagents. Please wear personal protection equipment (thermoluminescent dosimeter, safety glasses, gloves, radiation room lab coats, full length pants, closed-toe shoes) when performing the reaction.

1. Preparation of Assay M.......

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Transcription efficiency can be determined by measuring the level of radiation in the bands at different time points. The pausing assay to test the function of NusA factor enabled visualization of the pause, termination, and run-off products (Figure 1A). In the presence of the N-terminal domain of NusA (NusA NTD; amino acid residues 1-137), appearance of the RNA products was significantly delayed compared to the control experiment lacking NusA. Deletion of amino acid resi.......

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In all organisms, transcription is a tightly regulated process. In vitro transcription assays have been developed to provide a platform for testing the effects of transcription factors, small molecules and transcription inhibitors. In this method paper, an assay for general bacterial transcription was described. Transcription assays combined with sequencing gel electrophoresis of transcripts are very important for mechanistic studies as they allow visualization of all the transcription products along a timeline........

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This work acknowledges a Faculty Early Career Grant from the University of Newcastle (CM).


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Obtain the proteins required for transcription assay
E. coli RNAP Epicentre S90250
Preparation of DEPC-treated water
diethyl pyrocarbonate (DEPC)  Sigma-Aldrich  D5758
RNase-free water 
Ambion Nuclease-Free Water ThermoFisher AM9937
DNA template preparation
Wizard Plus SV Minipreps DNA Purification System Promega A1330
ACCUZYME Mix Bioline BIO-25028
PCR primers
Wizard SV Gel and PCR Clean-Up System  Promega A9281
NanoDrop 3300 fluorospectrometer Thermo Scientific ND-3300
NTP Preparation
ATP Sigma-Aldrich  A6559
UTP Sigma-Aldrich  U1006
GTP Sigma-Aldrich  G3776
CTP Sigma-Aldrich  C9274
High Purity rNTPs GE Healthcare 27-2025-01
α-32P UTP  PerkinElmer   BLU007C001MC Radioactive compound
RNA ladder preparation 
Novagen Perfect RNA Marker Template Mix 0.1–1 kb Millipore 69003
HEPES Sigma-Aldrich  H7006
Sodium chloride Sigma-Aldrich  S7653
Magnesium chloride Sigma-Aldrich  M8266
DTT   Sigma-Aldrich  DTT-RO
T7 RNAP Promega P2075
Gel preparation
Sequi-Gen GT nucleic acid sequencing cell  Bio-Rad   165-3804
Sigmacote   Sigma-Aldrich  SL2
urea   Sigma-Aldrich  U6504
tris(hydroxymethyl)aminomethane   Sigma-Aldrich  154563
boric acid  Sigma-Aldrich  B7901
ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid  Sigma-Aldrich  ED
40% Acrylamide/bis-acrylamide  Sigma-Aldrich  A9926
ammonium persulfate  Sigma-Aldrich  A3678
N,N,Nʹ′,Nʹ′-Tetramethylethylenediamine (TEMED)  Sigma-Aldrich  T9281
N,N,N",N"-Tetramethylethylenediamine (TEMED) Sigma-Aldrich T9281
Transcription Assay
Potassium chloride Sigma-Aldrich  P9541
glycerol   Sigma-Aldrich  G5516
rifampicin   Sigma-Aldrich  R3501
formamide   Sigma-Aldrich  F9037
bromophenol blue  Sigma-Aldrich  B0126
xylene cyanol  Sigma-Aldrich  X4126
heparin  Sigma-Aldrich  84020
RNasin Ribonuclease Inhibitor Promega N2511
Transcription buffer 
Tris base Sigma-Aldrich  T1503
Potassium chloride Sigma-Aldrich  P9541
Magnesium chloride Sigma-Aldrich  M2393
DTT   Sigma-Aldrich  DTT-RO
glycerol   Sigma-Aldrich  G5516
Filter paper
Whatman 3MM Chr Chromatography Paper Fisher Scientific 05-714-5
Radioactive decontaminant
Decon 90 decon decon90
Gel Treatment
Typhoon Trio+ imager GE Healthcare Life Sciences 63-0055-89

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