The Origins, Comparisons, and Practical Insights into PRO-seq Technology


Understanding the intricacies of gene expression has always been at the forefront of genomics research. The development of innovative technologies has continuously enhanced our capabilities to probe these complexities at ever finer resolutions. One such breakthrough method is Precision Run-On sequencing (PRO-seq), a powerful tool that enables researchers to map active transcription at a genome-wide scale. In this blog post, we explore the fundamental concepts of PRO-seq, its applications, and how it continues to shape the future of genomics.

Origins of PRO-seq

PRO-seq, or Precision Run-On sequencing, was introduced by the Lis Lab at Cornell University, led by Professor John T. Lis. The technique was detailed in the scientific paper "Precision nuclear run-on sequencing", published in 2013 in the journal Nature Protocols.

The primary authors of this study were Dirk E. Hnisz, Brian J. Abraham, Tong Ihn Lee, Stephen S. Lau, Veronika A. Saint-André, Alla A. Sigova, John A. Hoke, and Richard A. Young. It's worth noting that while this group is credited with the development and formal introduction of PRO-seq, many researchers have since contributed to refining and expanding the method's applications in various areas of genomics.

Since its introduction, PRO-seq has been widely used as a powerful tool in studying genome-wide transcriptional activity, opening up new frontiers in our understanding of gene regulation.

The Basics of PRO-seq:

PRO-seq is a cutting-edge technology that captures a snapshot of RNA transcription by capturing engaged polymerases across the genome. This technique provides a high-resolution, strand-specific map of active transcription, effectively identifying the precise location of RNA polymerases and their direction of transcription.

The process involves halting transcription in live cells and incorporating biotinylated nucleotides into the nascent RNA chain. The labeled RNA is then isolated, sequenced, and mapped to the genome, generating a comprehensive and detailed picture of transcriptional activity.

Advantages of PRO-seq:

PRO-seq has several advantages over traditional RNA-seq methods. It provides a high-resolution snapshot of transcription in progress, offering unparalleled insights into transcriptional regulation. By capturing engaged polymerases, PRO-seq can uncover promoter-proximal pausing, a crucial regulatory step in transcription, and provide a more nuanced understanding of regulatory dynamics.

Applications of PRO-seq:

PRO-seq has been instrumental in many genomics research projects, offering unique insights into gene regulatory networks. This technique has been particularly effective in:

  • Elucidating Transcriptional Dynamics: PRO-seq's ability to map active transcription at a genome-wide scale allows researchers to understand the dynamics of gene expression in response to various stimuli or conditions.
  • Understanding Disease Mechanisms: By mapping transcriptional activity, PRO-seq can uncover alterations in gene expression associated with diseases, offering potential targets for therapeutic intervention.
  • Drug Discovery: PRO-seq can be used to assess the transcriptional impact of different drug candidates, providing valuable insights into their mode of action and potential side effects.

Differences with Bulk RNA-seq

Both Precision Run-On sequencing (PRO-seq) and bulk RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) are widely used techniques in genomics, each with its strengths and specific applications. They both provide information about gene expression, but they approach this task from different angles and provide different types of data.

Here are the main differences between PRO-seq and bulk RNA-seq:

  • Transcriptional Activity vs. Final Transcript: The most significant difference between PRO-seq and bulk RNA-seq is what they measure. PRO-seq maps the position of actively transcribing RNA polymerases throughout the genome, providing a snapshot of ongoing transcription. In contrast, RNA-seq quantifies the final mRNA products, providing a measure of overall gene expression levels after transcription has been completed.

  • Resolution: PRO-seq provides a high-resolution, strand-specific map of transcription, allowing researchers to pinpoint the exact location and direction of transcription. This is particularly useful for studying complex transcriptional events such as promoter-proximal pausing. RNA-seq, on the other hand, is more of a "big picture" technique that provides information on the overall transcriptome but with less precision on the exact location and direction of transcription.

  • Post-Transcriptional Modifications: RNA-seq, being based on final mRNA products, can provide information about post-transcriptional modifications such as alternative splicing, polyadenylation, and RNA editing, which are important aspects of gene regulation. PRO-seq, focusing on nascent RNA, doesn't provide this information.

  • Noise and Sensitivity: PRO-seq can more accurately detect low-abundance transcripts and short-lived intermediates due to its ability to capture ongoing transcription. RNA-seq, while able to capture a wider range of RNA species, may have more noise and lower sensitivity for low-abundance or unstable transcripts.

  • Cost and Complexity: Generally speaking, RNA-seq is less technically demanding and more cost-effective than PRO-seq. PRO-seq requires more intricate sample preparation and has higher costs associated with sequencing due to its high-resolution nature.

In summary, the choice between PRO-seq and RNA-seq will depend on the specific research question and the level of detail needed. PRO-seq is best suited for detailed, high-resolution mapping of transcriptional activity, while RNA-seq is a more general tool for assessing overall gene expression and exploring post-transcriptional modifications.

The Future of Genomics with PRO-seq:

PRO-seq is undoubtedly revolutionizing the field of genomics, offering unprecedented detail and depth in the exploration of gene expression. As the technology continues to evolve, we can expect even more precise and comprehensive analyses of transcriptional dynamics.

Moreover, the integration of PRO-seq with other genomic technologies such as single-cell sequencing and CRISPR-Cas9 will unlock new avenues in personalized medicine, drug discovery, and our overall understanding of life at the molecular level.

Performing a PRO-seq experiment

Performing a PRO-seq experiment involves several steps, each requiring careful execution to ensure quality data is produced. It is essential to note that PRO-seq, like any other scientific experiment, should be performed in a well-equipped laboratory setting by trained individuals.

Here are the basic steps involved in a PRO-seq experiment:

  1. Cell Culture and Treatment: Depending on the experiment, the cells (e.g., yeast, mammalian cells) are grown under standard conditions, and any necessary treatments are applied.

  2. Nuclear Isolation: The cells are harvested, and nuclei are isolated. This step ensures the isolation of DNA along with the transcriptionally engaged RNA polymerase molecules.

  3. Run-On Reaction: This step involves the extension of engaged RNA polymerases with biotin-labeled nucleotides. Essentially, you're allowing transcription to continue ("run-on") in vitro in the presence of biotin-labeled NTPs, which get incorporated into the nascent RNA chain.

  4. RNA Extraction and Purification: Following the run-on reaction, the newly synthesized, biotin-labeled RNA is extracted and purified. This is usually achieved using stringent washes and immobilization with streptavidin-coated magnetic beads.

  5. Library Preparation: The purified RNA is then used to prepare a sequencing library. This involves steps like RNA fragmentation (if necessary), reverse transcription into cDNA, adapter ligation, and PCR amplification. The resulting library contains the cDNA sequences derived from the biotin-labeled nascent RNA.

  6. Sequencing: The final library is sequenced using high-throughput sequencing technology, like Illumina sequencing.

  7. Data Analysis: Sequencing reads are aligned to the reference genome, and bioinformatics analyses are performed to identify regions of active transcription and other transcriptional phenomena.

It's important to remember that the precise steps and conditions can vary depending on the specific cell type and research question. Always refer to up-to-date protocols and guidelines, and seek advice from experienced researchers when planning a PRO-seq experiment.

Moreover, like any other experiments involving RNA, special care should be taken to prevent RNA degradation, such as using RNase-free reagents and equipment and minimizing the time that RNA samples spend at room temperature. Lastly, ensure the experimental design includes appropriate controls to validate the results.


Through the lens of PRO-seq, we are gaining remarkable insights into the complex world of transcriptional regulation. As we continue to refine and advance this technology, we can look forward to a new era of genomics research where we can understand the precise workings of genes in health and disease.

At, we are excited about the possibilities that PRO-seq brings to genomics research. Stay tuned for more updates and insights on the latest in the genomics field.

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