AAT Bioquest

What are the differences in the transcription between eukaryotes and prokaryotes?

Posted February 22, 2023


Transcription is the process by which the information stored in the DNA is transferred to an mRNA through RNA synthesis. Although the overall process and chemistry remains the same in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, there are a few notable differences between the two.

Basis of differentiation 

Prokaryotic Transcription

Eukaryotic Transcription


Refers to the transcription process that takes place in prokaryotic cells

Refers to the transcription process that takes place in eukaryotic cells

Order in which transcription and translation occur

Transcription and translation occur simultaneously

Transcription and translation do not occur simultaneously – they are two separate processes

Site of occurrence

Transcription occurs in the cytoplasm

Transcription occurs in the nucleus and translation occurs in the cytoplasm

Level of complexity

Process is relatively simple

Process is relatively complex

Variation in promoters

Less variation in promoters

More variation in promoters

Type of RNA polymerase involved

Involves a single type of RNA polymerase, which is comprised of a core enzyme and other subunits

Type of RNA polymerase varies according to the organisms

- RNA polymerase I, II, III are present in all eukaryotes, 

- RNA polymerase IV and V are present only in plants

Site of RNA release and processing

RNAs are released and processed in the cytoplasm

RNAs are released and processed in the nucleus

Number of polypeptides in RNA polymerases

RNA polymerases are a complex of five polypeptides or subunits

RNA polymerases are a complex of 10 -15 polypeptides or subunits

Transcription of mRNA

mRNA is transcribed directly from template DNA molecule

A pre-mRNA molecule known as a primary transcript is formed first and then processed to yield a mature mRNA

Type of Transcription


Transcription is indirect - A complex of DNA and histone proteins must be accessible for transcription to take place

Transcription occurs directly as DNA is not bound to the histone proteins

Type of mRNA sequence

mRNA sequence is polycistronic

mRNA sequence is monocistronic.

Transcription Terminators

Two types of transcription terminators - Rho-dependent terminators and Rho-independent terminators

The three RNA polymerases employ different mechanisms for the termination

Presence of post-transcriptional modifications



Additional resources

Eukaryotic and prokaryotic promoter databases as valuable tools in exploring the regulation of gene transcription: a comprehensive overview

DNA and RNA Quantitation

Portelite™ Fluorimetric RNA Quantitation Kit*Optimized for Cytocite™ and Qubit™ Fluorometers*