Control of transcription elongation by GreA determines rate of gene expression inStreptococcus pneumoniae

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Transcription by RNA polymerase may be interrupted by pauses caused by backtracking or misincorporation that can be resolved by the conserved bacterial Gre-factors. However, the consequences of such pausing in the living cell remain obscure. Here, we developed molecular biology and transcriptome sequencing tools in the human pathogenStreptococcus pneumoniaeand provide evidence that transcription elongation is rate-limiting on highly expressed genes. Our results suggest that transcription elongation may be a highly regulated step of gene expression inS. pneumoniae. Regulation is accomplished via long-living elongation pauses and their resolution by elongation factor GreA. Interestingly, mathematical modeling indicates that long-living pauses cause queuing of RNA polymerases, which results in ‘transcription traffic jams’ on the gene and thus blocks its expression. Together, our results suggest that long-living pauses and RNA polymerase queues caused by them are a major problem on highly expressed genes and are detrimental for cell viability. The major and possibly sole function of GreA inS. pneumoniaeis to prevent formation of backtracked elongation complexes.

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