Regulating RNA polymerase pausing and transcription elongation in embryonic stem cells

Irene M. Min, Joshua J. Waterfall, Leighton J. Core, Robert J. Munroe, John Schimenti, John T. Lis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

247 Scopus citations


Transitions between pluripotent stem cells and differentiated cells are executed by key transcription regulators. Comparative measurements of RNA polymerase distribution over the genome's primary transcription units in different cell states can identify the genes and steps in the transcription cycle that are regulated during such transitions. To identify the complete transcriptional profiles of RNA polymerases with high sensitivity and resolution, as well as the critical regulated steps upon which regulatory factors act, we used genome-wide nuclear run-on (GRO-seq) to map the density and orientation of transcriptionally engaged RNA polymerases in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). In both cell types, progression of a promoter-proximal, paused RNA polymerase II (Pol II) into productive elongation is a rate-limiting step in transcription of ~40% of mRNA-encoding genes. Importantly, quantitative comparisons between cell types reveal that transcription is controlled frequently at paused Pol II's entry into elongation. Furthermore, "bivalent" ESC genes (exhibiting both active and repressive histone modifications) bound by Polycomb group complexes PRC1 (Polycomb-repressive complex 1) and PRC2 show dramatically reduced levels of paused Pol II at promoters relative to an average gene. In contrast, bivalent promoters bound by only PRC2 allow Pol II pausing, but it is confined to extremely 59 proximal regions. Altogether, these findings identify rate-limiting targets for transcription regulation during cell differentiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-754
Number of pages13
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Embryonic stem cell
  • Pausing
  • Polycomb group complex
  • RNA polymerase II
  • Transcription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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