Transcription activation by cyclic AMP (cAMP) receptor protein (CAP) is the classic paradigm of transcription regulation in bacteria. CAP was suggested to activate transcription on class-II promoters via a recruitment and isomerization mechanism.
However, whether and how it modifies RNA polymerase (RNAP) to initiate transcription remains unclear.
Here, we report cryo–electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of an intact Escherichia coli class-II CAP-dependent transcription activation complex (CAP-TAC) with and without de novo RNA transcript.
The structures reveal two distinct architectures of TAC and raise the possibility that CAP binding may induce substantial conformational changes in all the subunits of RNAP and transiently widen the main cleft of RNAP to facilitate DNA promoter entering and formation of the initiation open complex.
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These structural changes vanish during further RNA transcript synthesis. The observations in this study may reveal a possible on-pathway intermediate and suggest a possibility that CAP activates transcription by inducing intermediate state, in addition to the previously proposed stabilization mechanism.