In the text I'm translating I have a diagram of an expression vector. It has a lot of marks, and one says "TATA signal". I googled and found the expression "TATA box".

Are these expressions fully synonymous and interchangeable?

From Wikipedia:

Considered to be the core promoter sequence, it is the binding site of either general transcription factors or histones (the binding of a transcription factor blocks the binding of a histone and vice versa) and is involved in the process of transcription by RNA polymerase.

So basically "TATA box" serves as a signal to the transcription machinery that says "transcribe this"?

  • $\begingroup$ Is this TATA signal in the figure very close to the transcription start site? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Feb 7, 2017 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris - it is positioned just before the target gene (which we want to express) and just after the GAPDH promoter. I'm not sure where the transcription start site is on that diagram. Maybe the beginning of the target gene sequence is the transcription start site? $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2017 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris - but it's quite far from the origin of replication $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2017 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ The ori doesn't matter here - if it is located immediately upstream (around -25-35 if I remember correctly) then it should be the TATA box. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Feb 7, 2017 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris - if the ORI is located immediately upstream? Or if the TATA signal is located immediately upstream of the target gene? $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2017 at 15:40

2 Answers 2


"Box" is an archaic term from long ago. It's little used. "Signal" has now replaced it. "TATA box" and "TATA signal" are synonymous.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why do you say it is archaic? I hear it frequently and it is still used widely in publications. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Feb 10, 2017 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ I think your are nog right that TATA box is "replaced" by TATA signal, give a quick search on pubMed and you will see that the most recent articles still use "TATA box". Do you have any references for your statement? $\endgroup$
    – KingBoomie
    Feb 11, 2017 at 11:32

Probably this is the reason why they call it a TATA signal instead of a TATA box:

The TATA box was originally identified as a regulatory signal upstream of many protein-coding genes transcribed by RNA polymerase II (Pol II). However, some tRNA and 5S RNA genes and most RNA polymerase III (Pol III)-transcribed genes with external promoters also possess TATA boxes -25-30 bp upstream of the transcription start site (article)

This is a quite old article (1995) however inferring the text above signal is more/previously used to describe a TATA boxes near protein-coding genes whereas TATA boxes are more general, so also for non-protein coding genes.


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