A minimal RNA polymerase II (pol II) transcription system comprises the polymerase and five general transcription factors (GTFs) TFIIB, -D, -E, -F, and -H. The addition of Mediator enables a response to regulatory factors. The GTFs are required for promoter recognition and the initiation of transcription. Following initiation, pol II alone is capable of RNA transcript elongation and of proofreading. Structural studies reviewed here reveal roles of GTFs in the initiation process and shed light on the transcription elongation mechanism. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: RNA Polymerase II Transcript Elongation.
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