Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.


Everything at once: cryo-EM yields remarkable insights into human RNA polymerase II transcription

After years of only low-resolution and partial assemblies, the entire human preinitiation complex (PIC), including the large and flexible Mediator and TFIID complexes, has come into focus. Five recent papers from three different research groups have transformed our understanding of transcription initiation by RNA polymerase II.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Comparison of recent PIC and Mediator–PIC structures.
Fig. 2: Model of the Pol II CTD path to Mediator and CDK7.
Fig. 3: Selected structural details important for Pol II transcription initiation.


  1. Roeder, R. G. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 26, 783–791 (2019).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Schier, A. C. & Taatjes, D. J. Genes Dev. 34, 465–488 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Abdella, R. et al. Science 372, 52–56 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Aibara, S., Schilbach, S. & Cramer, P. Nature (2021).

  5. Rengachari, S., Schilbach, S., Aibara, S., Dienemann, C. & Cramer, P. Nature (2021).

  6. Chen, X. et al. Science 372, eaba8490 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Chen, X. et al. Science (2021).

  8. Robinson, P. J. et al. Cell 166, 1411–1422.e16 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Schilbach, S. et al. Nature 551, 204–209 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Tsai, K.-L. et al. Nature 544, 196–201 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Zhao, H. et al. Nat. Commun. 12, 1355 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Søgaard, T. M. M. & Svejstrup, J. Q. J. Biol. Chem. 282, 14113–14120 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Patel, A. B. et al. Science 362, eaau8872 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Fishburn, J., Tomko, E., Galburt, E. & Hahn, S. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 3961–3966 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Tomko, E. J. et al. J. Mol. Biol. (2021).

  16. Rossi, M. J. et al. Nature 592, 309–314 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Taatjes, D. J., Näär, A. M., Andel, F. III, Nogales, E. & Tjian, R. Science 295, 1058–1062 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Henley, M. J. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 27346–27353 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Rodriguez, J. & Larson, D. R. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 89, 189–212 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Gressel, S. et al. Elife 6, e29736 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Shao, W. & Zeitlinger, J. Nat. Genet. 49, 1045–1051 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Tantale, K. et al. Nat. Commun. 7, 12248 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Sabari, B. R., Dall’Agnese, A. & Young, R. A. Trends Biochem. Sci. 45, 961–977 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Takahashi, H. et al. Cell 146, 92–104 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Greber, B. J., Toso, D. B., Fang, J. & Nogales, E. Elife 8, e44771 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dylan J. Taatjes.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

D.J.T. is a member of the scientific advisory board at Dewpoint Therapeutics.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Schier, A.C., Taatjes, D.J. Everything at once: cryo-EM yields remarkable insights into human RNA polymerase II transcription. Nat Struct Mol Biol 28, 540–543 (2021).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing