RNA Sequence and Structure Determinants of Pol III Transcriptional Termination in Human Cells

Matthew S. Verosloff, William K. Corcoran, Taylor B. Dolberg, David Z. Bushhouse, Joshua N. Leonard*, Julius B. Lucks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The precise mechanism of transcription termination of the eukaryotic RNA polymerase III (Pol III) has been a subject of considerable debate. Although previous studies have clearly shown that multiple uracils at the end of RNA transcripts are required for Pol III termination, the effects of upstream RNA secondary structure in the nascent transcript on transcriptional termination is still unclear. To address this, we developed an in cellulo Pol III transcription termination assay using the recently developed Tornado-Corn RNA aptamer system to create a Pol III-transcribed RNA that produces a detectable fluorescent signal when transcribed in human cells. To study the effects of RNA sequence and structure on Pol III termination, we systematically varied the sequence context upstream of the aptamer and identified sequence characteristics that enhance or diminish termination. For transcription from Pol III type 3 promoters, we found that only poly-U tracts longer than the average length found in the human genome efficiently terminate Pol III transcription without RNA secondary structure elements. We observed that RNA secondary structure elements placed in proximity to shorter poly-U tracts induced termination, and RNA secondary structure by itself was not sufficient to induce termination. For Pol III type 2 promoters, we found that the shorter poly-U tract lengths of 4 uracils were sufficient to induce termination. These findings demonstrate a key role for sequence and structural elements within Pol III-transcribed nascent RNA for efficient transcription termination, and demonstrate a generalizable assay for characterizing Pol III transcription in human cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number166978
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 25 2021


  • RNA polymerase III
  • aptamer
  • synthetic biology
  • termination
  • transcription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology


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