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Mammalian nuclei contain three different RNA polymerases defined by their characteristic locations and drug sensitivities; polymerase I is found in nucleoli, and polymerases II and III in the nucleoplasm. As nascent transcripts made by polymerases I and II are concentrated in discrete sites, the locations of those made by polymerase III were investigated. HeLa cells were lysed with saponin in an improved 'physiological' buffer that preserves transcriptional activity and nuclear ultrastructure; then, engaged polymerases were allowed to extend nascent transcripts in Br-UTP, before the resulting Br-RNA was immunolabelled indirectly with fluorochromes or gold particles. Biochemical analysis showed that approximately 10 000 transcripts were being made by polymerase III at the moment of lysis, while confocal and electron microscopy showed that these transcripts were concentrated in only approximately 2000 sites (diameter approximately 40 nm). Therefore, each site contains approximately five active polymerases. These sites contain specific subunits of polymerase III, but not the hyperphosphorylated form of the largest subunit of polymerase II. The results indicate that the active forms of all three nuclear polymerases are concentrated in their own dedicated transcription sites or 'factories', suggesting that different regions of the nucleus specialize in the transcription of different types of gene.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2241 - 2253


Binding Sites, Cell Nucleus, HeLa Cells, Humans, Microscopy, Electron, RNA Polymerase III, RNA, Messenger, Transcription, Genetic