Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Function and regulation of Cdk7

Thomas Westerling

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Biomedicine.

Understanding the process of cell division is crucial for modern cancer medicine due to the central role of uncontrolled cell division in this disease. Cancer involves unrestrained proliferation as a result of cells loosing normal control and being driven through the cell cycle, where they normally would be non-dividing or quiescent.

Progression through the cell cycle is thought to be dependent on the sequential activation of cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks). The full activation of Cdks requires the phosphorylation of a conserved residue (threonine-160 on human Cdk2) on the T-loop of the kinase domain. In metazoan species, a trimeric complex consisting of Cdk7, cyclin H and Mat1 has been suggested to be the T-loop kinase of several Cdks. In addition, Cdk7 have also been implicated in the regulation of transcription. Cdk7, cyclin H, and Mat1 can be found as subunits of general transcription factor TFIIH. Cdk7, in this context, phosphorylates the Carboxy-terminal domain (CTD) of the large subunit of RNA polymerase II (RNA pol II), specifically on serine-5 residues of the CTD repeat. The regulation of Cdk7 in these and other functions is not well known and the unambiguous characterization of the in vivo role of Cdk7 in both T-loop activation and CTD serine-5 phosphorylation has proved challenging.

In this study, the fission yeast Cdk7-cyclin H homologous complex, Mcs6-Mcs2, is identified as the in vivo T-loop kinase of Cdk1(Cdc2). It also identifies multiple levels of regulation of Mcs6 kinase activity, i.e. association with Pmh1, a novel fission yeast protein that is the apparent homolog of metazoan Mat1, and T-loop phosphorylation of Mcs6, mediated by Csk1, a monomeric T-loop kinase with similarity to Cak1 of budding yeast. In addition, Skp1, a component of the SCF (Skp1-Cullin-F box protein) ubiquitin ligase is identified by its interactions with Mcs2 and Pmh1. The Skp1 association with Mcs2 and Pmh1 is however SCF independent and does not involve proteolytic degradation but may reflect a novel mechanism to modulate the activity or complex assembly of Mcs6.

In addition to Cdk7, also Cdk8 has been shown to have CTD serine-5 kinase activity in vitro. Cdk8 is not essential in yeast but has been shown to function as a transcriptional regulator. The function of Cdk8 is unknown in flies and mammals. This prompted the investigation of murine Cdk8 and its potential role as a redundant CTD serine-5 kinase. We find that Cdk8 is required for development prior to implantation, at a time that is co-incident with a burst of Cdk8 expression during normal development. The results does not support a role of Cdk8 as a serine-5 CTD kinase in vivo but rather shows an unexpected requirement for Cdk8, early in mammalian development.

The results presented in this thesis extends our current knowledge of the regulation of the cell cycle by characterizing the function of two distinct cell cycle regulating T-loop kinases, including the unambiguous identification of Mcs6, the fission yeast Cdk7 homolog, as the T-loop kinase of Cdk1. The results also indicate that the function of Mcs6 is conserved from fission yeast to human Cdk7 and suggests novel mechanisms by which the distinct functions of Cdk7 and Mcs6 could be regulated.

These findings are important for our understanding of how progression of the cell cycle and proper transcription is controlled, during normal development and tissue homeostasis but also under condition where cells have escaped these control mechanisms e.g. cancer.

The title page of the publication

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Last updated 24.11.2006

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