We have characterized the misincorporation properties of wild-type (wt) T7 RNAP and of 45 T7RNAP point mutants. The wt enzyme selects strongly against incorporation of an incorrect nucleotide. From the measured rates of misincorporation, an average error frequency of 1 in 2 x 104 is estimated. RNAs bearing 3'-mismatches are extended more slowly than correctly paired 3'-termini, and mismatches one or two bases away from the RNA 3'-end can also slow extension severely even when the 3'-base is correctly paired. Though it has been reported that T7RNAP has a 3' → 5' nuclease activity, we were unable to detect any endogenous T7RNAP RNase activity in elongation complexes. Pyrophosphorolysis was detected but does not appear to contribute to proofreading. Therefore, unlike other RNAPs, T7RNAP fidelity appears to depend entirely on discrimination against incorporation of the incorrect nucleotide and not on post-misincorporation proofreading. Alanine substitution of the H784 side chain, which interacts with the 3' RNA·template base pair, increases both misincorporation and mismatch extension, while substitutions at G640, F644, and G645 increase misincorporation, but not mismatch extension. The latter three amino acids are in a part of the RNAP which interacts with the templating base and with the base immediately 5' to the templating base. Mutation of these amino acids not only increases misincorporation, but also eliminates pausing during promoter clearance. The effects of these mutations and the interactions observed in a crystal structure of a transcribing complex indicate that these mutations disrupt interactions which limit misincorporation rates by stabilizing the catalytically incompetent open conformation of the RNAP.
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