Architecture of the RNA polymerase–Spt4/5 complex and basis of universal transcription processivity
Related RNA polymerases (RNAPs) carry out cellular gene transcription in all three kingdoms of life. The universal conservation of the transcription machinery extends to a single RNAP-associated factor, Spt5 (or NusG in bacteria), which renders RNAP processive and may have arisen early to permit evolution of long genes. Spt5 associates with Spt4 to form the Spt4/5 heterodimer. Here, we present the crystal structure of archaeal Spt4/5 bound to the RNAP clamp domain, which forms one side of the RNAP active centre cleft. The structure revealed a conserved Spt5–RNAP interface and enabled modelling of complexes of Spt4/5 counterparts with RNAPs from all kingdoms of life, and of the complete yeast RNAP II elongation complex with bound Spt4/5. The N-terminal NGN domain of Spt5/NusG closes the RNAP active centre cleft to lock nucleic acids and render the elongation complex stable and processive. The C-terminal KOW1 domain is mobile, but its location is restricted to a region between the RNAP clamp and wall above the RNA exit tunnel, where it may interact with RNA and/or other factors.