Coordinated replication and expression of themitochondrial genome is critical for metabolically active cells during various stages of development. However, it is not known whether replication and transcription can occur simultaneously without interfering with each other and whether mitochondrial DNA copy number can be regulated by the transcription machinery. We found that interaction of human transcription elongation factor TEFM with mitochondrial RNA polymerase and nascent transcript prevents the generation of replication primers and increases transcription processivity and thereby serves as a molecular switch between replication and transcription, which appear to be mutually exclusive processes in mitochondria. TEFM may allow mitochondria to increase transcription rates and, as a consequence, respiration and adenosine triphosphate production without the need to replicate mitochondrial DNA, as has been observed during spermatogenesis and the early stages of embryogenesis.
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