Cancerous and aging cells have long been thought to be impacted by transcription errors that cause genetic and epigenetic changes. Until now, a lack of methodology for directly assessing such errors hindered evaluation of their impact to the cells. We report a high-resolution Illumina RNA-seq method that can assess noncoded base substitutions in mRNA at 10(-4)-10(-5) per base frequencies in vitro and in vivo. Statistically reliable detection of changes in transcription fidelity through ∼10(3) nt DNA sites assures that the RNA-seq can analyze the fidelity in a large number of the sites where errors occur. A combination of the RNA-seq and biochemical analyses of the positions for the errors revealed two sequence-specific mechanisms that increase transcription fidelity by Escherichia coli RNA polymerase: (i) enhanced suppression of nucleotide misincorporation that improves selectivity for the cognate substrate, and (ii) increased backtracking of the RNA polymerase that decreases a chance of error propagation to the full-length transcript after misincorporation and provides an opportunity to proofread the error. This method is adoptable to a genome-wide assessment of transcription fidelity.
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