The variability and complexity of the transcription initiation process was examined by adapting RNA ligase-mediated rapid amplification of 5' cDNA ends (5'-RACE) to Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS). We oligo-labelled 5'-m(7)G-capped mRNA from two genes, the simple mono-exonic Beta-2-Adrenoceptor (ADRB2R) and the complex multi-exonic Glucocorticoid Receptor (GR, NR3C1), and detected a variability in TSS location that has received little attention up to now. Transcription was not initiated at a fixed TSS, but from loci of 4 to 10 adjacent nucleotides. Individual TSSs had frequencies from <0.001% to 38.5% of the total gene-specific 5' m(7)G-capped transcripts. ADRB2R used a single locus consisting of 4 adjacent TSSs. Unstimulated, the GR used a total of 358 TSSs distributed throughout 38 loci, that were principally in the 5' UTRs and were spliced using established donor and acceptor sites. Complete demethylation of the epigenetically sensitive GR promoter with 5-azacytidine induced one new locus and 127 TSSs, 12 of which were unique. We induced GR transcription with dexamethasone and Interferon-γ, adding one new locus and 185 additional TSSs distributed throughout the promoter region. In-vitro the TSS microvariability regulated mRNA translation efficiency and the relative abundance of the different GR N-terminal protein isoform levels.
Leenen, F. A. D., Vernocchi, S., Hunewald, O. E., Schmitz, S., Molitor, A. M., Muller, C. P., & Turner, J. D. (2015). Where does transcription start? 5′-RACE adapted to next-generation sequencing. Nucleic Acids Research, 44(6), 2628–2645. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkv1328