The calculation of transcript flux ratios reveals single regulatory mechanisms capable of activation and repression

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The regulation of transcription allows cells to adjust the rate of RNA polymerases (RNAPs) initiated in a promoter-specific manner. Classically, transcription factors are directed to a subset of promoters via the recognition of DNA sequence motifs. However, a unique class of regulators is recruited directly through interactions with RNAP. Surprisingly, these factors may still possess promoter specificity, and it has been postulated that the same kinetic mechanism leads to different regulatory outcomes depending on a promoter’s basal rate constants. However, mechanistic studies of regulation typically report factor activity in terms of changes in the thermodynamics or kinetics of individual steps or states while qualitatively linking these observations to measured changes in transcript production. Here, I present online calculators that allow for the direct testing of mechanistic hypotheses by calculating the steady-state transcript flux in the presence and absence of a factor as a function of initiation rate constants. By evaluating how the flux ratio of a single kinetic mechanism varies across promoter space, quantitative insights into the potential of a mechanism to generate promoter-specific regulatory outcomes are obtained. Using these calculations, I predict that the mycobacterial transcription factor CarD is capable of repression in addition to its known role as an activator of ribosomal genes. In addition, a modification of the mechanism of the stringent response factors DksA/ guanosine 5′-diphosphate 3′-diphosphate (ppGpp) is proposed based on their ability to differentially regulate transcription across promoter space. Overall, I conclude that a multifaceted kinetic mechanism is a requirement for differential regulation by this class of factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E11604-E11613
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 11 2018


  • CarD
  • DksA
  • Kinetics
  • Regulation
  • Transcription


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