Regulation of gene expression via the core promoter and the basal transcriptional machinery

Tamar Juven-Gershon, James T. Kadonaga

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

365 Scopus citations


The RNA polymerase II core promoter is a structurally and functionally diverse transcriptional regulatory element. There are two main strategies for transcription initiation - focused and dispersed initiation. In focused initiation, transcription starts from a single nucleotide or within a cluster of several nucleotides, whereas in dispersed initiation, there are several weak transcription start sites over a broad region of about 50 to 100 nucleotides. Focused initiation is the predominant means of transcription in simpler organisms, whereas dispersed initiation is observed in approximately two-thirds of vertebrate genes. Regulated genes tend to have focused promoters, and constitutive genes typically have dispersed promoters. Hence, in vertebrates, focused promoters are used in a small but biologically important fraction of genes. The properties of focused core promoters are dependent upon the presence or absence of sequence motifs such as the TATA box and DPE. For example, Caudal, a key regulator of the homeotic gene network, preferentially activates transcription from DPE- versus TATA-dependent promoters. The basal transcription factors, which act in conjunction with the core promoter, are another important component in the regulation of gene expression. For instance, upon differentiation of myoblasts to myotubes, the cells undergo a switch from a TFIID-based transcription system to a TRF3-TAF3-based system. These findings suggest that the core promoter and basal transcription factors are important yet mostly unexplored components in the regulation of gene expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-229
Number of pages5
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Joshua Theisen, Timur Yusufzai, Jer-Yuan Hsu, Barbara Rattner, Moriah Eustice, Sharon Torigoe, and Trevor Parry for critical reading of the manuscript. Our research on the RNA polymerase II core promoter is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health ( GM041249 ).


  • Core promoter
  • DPE
  • RNA polymerase II
  • TATA
  • Transcription


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