The RNA polymerase II transcription cycle is often divided into three major stages: initiation, elongation, and termination. Research over the last decade has blurred these divisions and emphasized the tightly regulated transitions that occur as RNA polymerase II synthesizes a transcript from start to finish. Transcription termination, the process that marks the end of transcription elongation, is regulated by proteins that interact with the polymerase, nascent transcript, and/or chromatin template. The failure to terminate transcription can cause accumulation of aberrant transcripts and interfere with transcription at downstream genes. Here, we review the mechanism, regulation, and physiological impact of a termination pathway that targets small noncoding transcripts produced by RNA polymerase II. We emphasize the Nrd1-Nab3-Sen1 pathway in yeast, in which the process has been extensively studied. The importance of understanding small RNA termination pathways is underscored by the need to control noncoding transcription in eukaryotic genomes.
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