Eucaryotic gene transcriptional switches utilize changes both in the activity and composition of soluble transcription factor complexes, and epigenetic modifications to the chromatin template. Until recently, alternate states of promoter activity have been associated with the assembly of relatively stable multiprotein complexes on target genes, with transitions in the composition of these complexes occurring on the time scale of minutes or hours. The development of living cell techniques to characterize transcription factor function in real time has led to an alternate view of highly dynamic protein/template interactions. In addition, emerging evidence suggests that energy-dependent processes contribute significantly to the rapid movement of proteins in living cells, and to the exchange of sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins with regulatory elements. Potential mechanisms involved in the unexpectedly rapid flux of factor/template interactions are discussed in the context of a "return-to-template" model for transcription factor function.
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