DNA Intercalators Inhibit Eukaryotic Ribosomal RNA Synthesis by Impairing the Initiation of Transcription

William J. Andrews, Swagat Ray, Tatiana Panova, Christoph Engel, Konstantin I. Panov*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In eukaryotes, ribosome biogenesis is driven by the synthesis of the ribosomal RNA (rRNA) by RNA polymerase I (Pol-I) and is tightly linked to cell growth and proliferation. The 3D-structure of the rDNA promoter plays an important, yet not fully understood role in regulating rRNA synthesis. We hypothesized that DNA intercalators/groove binders could affect this structure and disrupt rRNA transcription. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the effect of a number of compounds on Pol-I transcription in vitro and in cells. We find that intercalators/groove binders are potent inhibitors of Pol-I specific transcription both in vitro and in cells, regardless of their specificity and the strength of its interaction with DNA. Importantly, the synthetic ability of Pol-I is unaffected, suggesting that these compounds are not targeting post-initiating events. Notably, the tested compounds have limited effect on transcription by Pol-II and III, demonstrating the hypersensitivity of Pol-I transcription. We propose that stability of pre-initiation complex and initiation are affected as result of altered 3D architecture of the rDNA promoter, which is well in line with the recently reported importance of biophysical rDNA promoter properties on initiation complex formation in the yeast system.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1412
Number of pages20
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2021


  • DNA intercalators
  • ribosome biogenesis
  • ribosomal RNA
  • RNA polymerase I
  • ribosomal DNA
  • transcription


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