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Mol Cell Biol. 2008 Jun;28(11):3623-38. doi: 10.1128/MCB.01152-07. Epub 2008 Mar 24.

RelA Ser276 phosphorylation is required for activation of a subset of NF-kappaB-dependent genes by recruiting cyclin-dependent kinase 9/cyclin T1 complexes.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555-1060, USA.


NF-kappaB plays a central role in cytokine-inducible inflammatory gene expression. Previously we empirically determined the identity of 92 members of the genetic network under direct NF-kappaB/RelA control that show marked heterogeneity in magnitude of transcriptional induction and kinetics of peak activation. To investigate this network further, we have applied a recently developed two-step chromatin immunoprecipitation assay that accurately reflects association and disassociation of RelA binding to its chromatin targets. Although inducible RelA binding occurs with similar kinetics on all NF-kappaB-dependent genes, serine 276 (Ser(276))-phosphorylated RelA binding is seen primarily on a subset of genes that are rapidly induced by tumor necrosis factor (TNF), including Gro-beta, interleukin-8 (IL-8), and IkappaBalpha. Previous work has shown that TNF-inducible RelA Ser(276) phosphorylation is controlled by a reactive oxygen species (ROS)-protein kinase A signaling pathway. To further understand the role of phospho-Ser(276) RelA in target gene expression, we inhibited its formation by ROS scavengers and antioxidants, treatments that disrupt phospho-Ser(276) formation but not the translocation and DNA binding of nonphosphorylated RelA. Here we find that phospho-Ser(276) RelA is required only for activation of IL-8 and Gro-beta, with IkappaBalpha being unaffected. These data were confirmed in experiments using RelA(-/-) murine embryonic fibroblasts reconstituted with a RelA Ser(276)Ala mutation. In addition, we observe that phospho-Ser(276) RelA binds the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb), a complex containing the cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK-9) and cyclin T1 subunits. Inhibition of P-TEFb activity by short interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated knockdown shows that the phospho-Ser(276) RelA-P-TEFb complex is required for IL-8 and Gro-beta gene activation but not for IkappaBalpha gene activation. These studies indicate that TNF induces target gene expression by heterogeneous mechanisms. One is mediated by phospho-Ser(276) RelA formation and chromatin targeting of P-TEFb controlling polymerase II (Pol II) recruitment and carboxy-terminal domain phosphorylation on the IL-8 and Gro-beta genes. The second involves a phospho-Ser(276) RelA-independent activation of genes preloaded with Pol II, exemplified by the IkappaBalpha gene. Together, these data suggest that the binding kinetics, selection of genomic targets, and mechanisms of promoter induction by RelA are controlled by a phosphorylation code influencing its interactions with coactivators and transcriptional elongation factors.

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