Persistence of backtracking by human RNA polymerase II

Kevin B. Yang, Aviram Rasouly, Vitaly Epshtein, Criseyda Martinez, Thao Nguyen, Ilya Shamovsky, Evgeny Nudler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


RNA polymerase II (RNA Pol II) can backtrack during transcription elongation, exposing the 3′ end of nascent RNA. Nascent RNA sequencing can approximate the location of backtracking events that are quickly resolved; however, the extent and genome-wide distribution of more persistent backtracking are unknown. Consequently, we developed a method to directly sequence the extruded, “backtracked” 3′ RNA. Our data show that RNA Pol II slides backward more than 20 nt in human cells and can persist in this backtracked state. Persistent backtracking mainly occurs where RNA Pol II pauses near promoters and intron-exon junctions and is enriched in genes involved in translation, replication, and development, where gene expression is decreased if these events are unresolved. Histone genes are highly prone to persistent backtracking, and the resolution of such events is likely required for timely expression during cell division. These results demonstrate that persistent backtracking can potentially affect diverse gene expression programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)897-909.e4
JournalMolecular Cell
Issue number5
StatePublished - 7 Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • RNA polymerase II
  • backtracking
  • gene regulation
  • histone genes
  • transcription elongation


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