Nuclear RNA polymerase (Pol) III synthesizes large amounts of tRNAs and other short non-coding (nc)RNAs by a unique process that involves a termination-associated reinitiation-recycling mechanism. In addition to its two largest of 17 subunits, which contribute to active center RNA-DNA binding and catalytic site, a smaller subunit of ~110 aa (yeast C11, human RPC10) monitors this site, can modify its activity, and is essential for reinitiation-recycling. Distinct, but relevant to human immunity is cytoplasmic (cyto-)Pol III that is a direct sensor of AT-rich viral DNA from which it synthesizes 5′-ppp-RNA signaling molecules that activate interferon (IFN) production. Mutations in genes encoding Pol III subunits cause severe anti-viral immunodeficiency although the mechanisms responsible for cyto-Pol III initiation on this AT-rich DNA are unknown. Cyto-Pol III has also been implicated in inducing IFN in response to cytosolic mitochondrial DNA in autoimmune dysfunction. A focus of this commentary is recent biochemical and genetics research that examined the roles of the individual domains of C11 in the Pol III termination-associated reinitiation-recycling process as well as more recent cryo-EM structural and accompanying analyses, that are considered in evolutionary and other biological contexts. The N-terminal domain (NTD) of C11/RPC10 anchors at the periphery of Pol III from which a highly conserved linker extends to the mobile C-terminal RNA cleavage domain that can reach into the active center and rescue arrested complexes. Biochemical data indicate separable activities for the NTD and CTD in the transcription cycle, whereas the NTDLinker can confer the evolutionary unique Pol III termination-reinitiation-recycling activity. A model produced from single particle cryo-EM conformations indicates that the C11-Linker-CTD swings in and out of the active center coordinated with allosteric movements of the DNAbinding clamp by the largest subunit, coupling termination to reinitiation-recycling. These may be relevant to DNA loading by cyto-Pol III during immune signaling.
RNA:DNA hybrid, RNA-3’ cleavage, Transcription elongation, Transcription termination, Reinitiation-recycling, RNA polymerase III, C11, C37/53 heterodimer, RPC10, TFIIS