Transcription is a tightly regulated cellular function which can be triggered by endogenous (intrinsic) or exogenous (extrinsic) signals. The development of novel techniques to examine the dynamic behavior of transcription factors and the analysis of transcriptional activity at the single cell level with increased temporal resolution has revealed unexpected elements of stochasticity and dynamics of this process. Emerging research reveals a complex picture, wherein a wide range of time scales and temporal transcription patterns overlap to generate transcriptional programs. The challenge now is to develop a perspective that can guide us to common underlying mechanisms, and consolidate these findings. Here we review the recent literature on temporal dynamics and stochastic gene regulation patterns governed by intrinsic or extrinsic signals, utilizing the glucocorticoid receptor (GR)-mediated transcriptional model to illustrate commonality of these emerging concepts. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Chromatin in time and space. © 2012.
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