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April 2018



UP elements (upstream element) are DNA sequences upstream of a promoter that interact with the α-subunit of RNA polymerase (RNAP) and can affect transcription by altering the binding RNAP to DNA. However, details of UP element and binding affinity effects on transcriptional strength are unclear.


Here, we investigated the effects of UP element sequences on gene transcription, binding affinity, and gene expression noise. Addition of UP elements resulted in increased gene expression (maximum 95.7-fold increase) and reduced gene expression noise (8.51-fold reduction). Half UP element sequences at the proximal subsite has little effect on transcriptional strength despite increasing binding affinity by 2.28-fold. In vitro binding assays were used to determine dissociation constants (Kd) and in the in vitro system, the full range of gene expression occurs in a small range of dissociation constants (25 nM < Kd < 45 nM) indicating that transcriptional strength is highly sensitive to small changes in binding affinity.


These results demonstrate the utility of UP elements and provide mechanistic insight into the functional relationship between binding affinity and transcription. Given the centrality of gene expression via transcription to biology, additional insight into transcriptional mechanisms can foster both fundamental and applied research. In particular, knowledge of the DNA sequence-specific effects on expression strength can aid in promoter engineering for different organisms and for metabolic engineering to balance pathway fluxes.


© The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated

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