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The multicopy human U2 small nuclear (sn)RNA genes are transcribed by RNA polymerase (pol) II and contain two major promoter elements upstream of the transcription start site: an essential proximal sequence element (PSE) at around -55 and a distal sequence element (DSE) at around -220. We have carried out an in vivo footprinting analysis on these genes, and the results suggest that most, if not all, of the U2 gene promoters are bound by factors in interphase. Both the DSE and the PSE are protected from digestion, and the pattern of methylation protection over the DSE is virtually identical to that obtained in vitro using nuclear extract. Our results also indicate that the DNA between the PSE and the transcription start site is distorted and that proteins interact with the promoter between -20 and -33. Mutation of this sequence affects both the accuracy of initiation and polymerase specificity, underlining the importance of this region in U2 gene expression. We have also analysed the pattern of protection over the DSE and PSE of the U2 genes in mitotic cells. The degree of protection over all promoter elements is drastically reduced, suggesting that loss of DNA binding factors from the promoter plays a role in the shutdown of U2 gene transcription in mitosis. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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103 - 112