New insights into the promoterless transcription of DNA coligo templates by RNA polymerase III.
Lama L., Seidl CI., Ryan K.
Chemically synthesized DNA can carry small RNA sequence information but converting that information into small RNA is generally thought to require large double-stranded promoters in the context of plasmids, viruses and genes. We previously found evidence that circularized oligodeoxynucleotides (coligos) containing certain sequences and secondary structures can template the synthesis of small RNA by RNA polymerase III in vitro and in human cells. By using immunoprecipitated RNA polymerase III we now report corroborating evidence that this enzyme is the sole polymerase responsible for coligo transcription. The immobilized polymerase enabled experiments showing that coligo transcripts can be formed through transcription termination without subsequent 3' end trimming. To better define the determinants of productive transcription, a structure-activity relationship study was performed using over 20 new coligos. The results show that unpaired nucleotides in the coligo stem facilitate circumtranscription, but also that internal loops and bulges should be kept small to avoid secondary transcription initiation sites. A polymerase termination sequence embedded in the double-stranded region of a hairpin-encoding coligo stem can antagonize transcription. Using lessons learned from new and old coligos, we demonstrate how to convert poorly transcribed coligos into productive templates. Our findings support the possibility that coligos may prove useful as chemically synthesized vectors for the ectopic expression of small RNA in human cells.