Transcriptional Pulsing of a Developmental Gene

Jonathan R. Chubb, Tatjana Trcek, Shailesh M. Shenoy, Robert H. Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

541 Scopus citations


It has not been possible to view the transcriptional activity of a single gene within a living eukaryotic cell. It is therefore unclear how long and how frequently a gene is actively transcribed, how this is modulated during differentiation, and how transcriptional events are dynamically coordinated in cell populations. By means of an in vivo RNA detection technique [1-3], we have directly visualized transcription of an endogenous developmental gene. We found discrete "pulses" of gene activity that turn on and off at irregular intervals. Surprisingly, the length and height of these pulses were consistent throughout development. However, there was strong developmental variation in the proportion of cells recruited to the expressing pool. Cells were more likely to reexpress than to initiate new expression, indicating that we directly observe a transcriptional memory. In addition, we used a clustering algorithm to reveal synchronous transcription initiation in neighboring cells. This study represents the first direct visualization of transcriptional pulsing in eukaryotes. Discontinuity of transcription may allow greater flexibility in the gene-expression decisions of a cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1018-1025
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 23 2006


  • DNA
  • RNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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