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J Cell Sci. 2005 Nov 15;118(Pt 22):5171-80.

Secrets of a double agent: CDK7 in cell-cycle control and transcription.

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Molecular Biology Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.


In metazoans, cyclin-dependent kinase 7 (CDK7) has essential roles in both the cell-division cycle and transcription, as a CDK-activating kinase (CAK) and as a component of the general transcription factor TFIIH, respectively. Controversy over its double duty has been resolved, but questions remain. First, how does CDK7 achieve the dual substrate specificity necessary to perform both roles? Second, is there a deeper connection implied by the dichotomy of CDK7 function, for example similar mechanisms controlling cell division and gene expression, and/or actual coordination of the two processes? Enzymological studies have revealed solutions to the unusual substrate recognition problem, and there is evidence that the distinct functions of CDK7 can be regulated independently. Finally, despite divergence in their wiring, the CAK-CDK networks of budding yeast, fission yeast and metazoans all link transcriptional regulation with operation of the cell-cycle machinery. This connection might help to ensure that mRNAs encoding effectors of cell division are expressed at the right time in the cycle.

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