Coupled Transcription-Translation in Prokaryotes: An Old Couple With New Surprises

Mikel Irastortza-Olaziregi*, Orna Amster-Choder*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Coupled transcription-translation (CTT) is a hallmark of prokaryotic gene expression. CTT occurs when ribosomes associate with and initiate translation of mRNAs whose transcription has not yet concluded, therefore forming “RNAP.mRNA.ribosome” complexes. CTT is a well-documented phenomenon that is involved in important gene regulation processes, such as attenuation and operon polarity. Despite the progress in our understanding of the cellular signals that coordinate CTT, certain aspects of its molecular architecture remain controversial. Additionally, new information on the spatial segregation between the transcriptional and the translational machineries in certain species, and on the capability of certain mRNAs to localize translation-independently, questions the unanimous occurrence of CTT. Furthermore, studies where transcription and translation were artificially uncoupled showed that transcription elongation can proceed in a translation-independent manner. Here, we review studies supporting the occurrence of CTT and findings questioning its extent, as well as discuss mechanisms that may explain both coupling and uncoupling, e.g., chromosome relocation and the involvement of cis- or trans-acting elements, such as small RNAs and RNA-binding proteins. These mechanisms impact RNA localization, stability, and translation. Understanding the two options by which genes can be expressed and their consequences should shed light on a new layer of control of bacterial transcripts fate.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number624830
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
StatePublished - 21 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Irastortza-Olaziregi and Amster-Choder.


  • coupled transcription-translation
  • expressome
  • local translation
  • subcellular organization of prokaryotes
  • translation-independent mRNA localization
  • uncoupled transcription-translation


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