The non-coding snRNA 7SK controls transcriptional termination, poising, and bidirectionality in embryonic stem cells

Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, Paulo P. Amaral, Pär G. Engström, Samuel C. Robson, Sueli C. Marques, Paul Bertone, Tony Kouzarides

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Background: Pluripotency is characterized by a unique transcriptional state, in which lineage-specification genes are poised for transcription upon exposure to appropriate stimuli, via a bivalency mechanism involving the simultaneous presence of activating and repressive methylation marks at promoter-associated histones. Recent evidence suggests that other mechanisms, such as RNA polymerase II pausing, might be operational in this process, but their regulation remains poorly understood.

Results: Here we identify the non-coding snRNA 7SK as a multifaceted regulator of transcription in embryonic stem cells. We find that 7SK represses a specific cohort of transcriptionally poised genes with bivalent or activating chromatin marks in these cells, suggesting a novel poising mechanism independent of Polycomb activity. Genome-wide analysis shows that 7SK also prevents transcription downstream of polyadenylation sites at several active genes, indicating that 7SK is required for normal transcriptional termination or control of 3′-UTR length. In addition, 7SK suppresses divergent upstream antisense transcription at more than 2,600 loci, including many that encode divergent long non-coding RNAs, a finding that implicates the 7SK snRNA in the control of transcriptional bidirectionality.

Conclusions: Our study indicates that a single non-coding RNA, the snRNA 7SK, is a gatekeeper of transcriptional termination and bidirectional transcription in embryonic stem cells and mediates transcriptional poising through a mechanism independent of chromatin bivalency.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberR98
JournalGenome Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2013
Externally publishedYes


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