In bacteria, transcription and translation are coupled processes in which the movement of RNA polymerase (RNAP)-synthesizing messenger RNA (mRNA) is coordinated with the movement of the first ribosome-translating mRNA. Coupling is modulated by the transcription factors NusG (which is thought to bridge RNAP and the ribosome) and NusA. Here, we report cryo-electron microscopy structures of Escherichia coli transcription-translation complexes (TTCs) containing different-length mRNA spacers between RNAP and the ribosome active-center P site. Structures of TTCs containing short spacers show a state incompatible with NusG bridging and NusA binding (TTC-A, previously termed "expressome"). Structures of TTCs containing longer spacers reveal a new state compatible with NusG bridging and NusA binding (TTC-B) and reveal how NusG bridges and NusA binds. We propose that TTC-B mediates NusG- and NusA-dependent transcription-translation coupling.
Rutgers New Jersey CryoEM/CryoET Core Facility and Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA.