RNA polymerase is a target for numerous regulatory events in all living cells. Recent studies identified a few "hot spots" on the surface of bacterial RNA polymerase that mediate its interactions with diverse accessory proteins. Prominent among these hot spots, the β′ subunit clamp helices serve as a major binding site for the initiation factor σ and for the elongation factor RfaH. Furthermore, the two proteins interact with the nontemplate DNA strand in transcription complexes and thus may interfere with each other's activity.Weshow that RfaH does not inhibit transcription initiation but, once recruited to RNA polymerase, abolishes σ-dependent pausing. We argue that this apparent competition is due to a steric exclusion of σ by RfaH that is stably bound to the nontemplate DNA and clamp helices, both of which are necessary for the σ recruitment to the transcription complex. Our findings high-light the key regulatory role played by the clamp helices during both initiation and elongation stages of transcription. © 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.