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PLoS Biol. 2003 Nov;1(2):E28. Epub 2003 Nov 17.

Partially phosphorylated Pho4 activates transcription of a subset of phosphate-responsive genes.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, USA.


A cell's ability to generate different responses to different levels of stimulus is an important component of an adaptive environmental response. Transcriptional responses are frequently controlled by transcription factors regulated by phosphorylation. We demonstrate that differential phosphorylation of the budding yeast transcription factor Pho4 contributes to differential gene expression. When yeast cells are grown in high-phosphate growth medium, Pho4 is phosphorylated on four critical residues by the cyclin-CDK complex Pho80-Pho85 and is inactivated. When yeast cells are starved for phosphate, Pho4 is dephosphorylated and fully active. In intermediate-phosphate conditions, a form of Pho4 preferentially phosphorylated on one of the four sites accumulates and activates transcription of a subset of phosphate-responsive genes. This Pho4 phosphoform binds differentially to phosphate-responsive promoters and helps to trigger differential gene expression. Our results demonstrate that three transcriptional outputs can be generated by a pathway whose regulation is controlled by one kinase, Pho80-Pho85, and one transcription factor, Pho4. Differential phosphorylation of Pho4 by Pho80-Pho85 produces phosphorylated forms of Pho4 that differ in their ability to activate transcription, contributing to multiple outputs.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no conflicts of interest exist.

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