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EMBO J. 2008 May 21;27(10):1447-57. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2008.78. Epub 2008 Apr 17.

Cooperative activity of cdk8 and GCN5L within Mediator directs tandem phosphoacetylation of histone H3.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.


The human Mediator complex is generally required for expression of protein-coding genes. Here, we show that the GCN5L acetyltransferase stably associates with Mediator together with the TRRAP polypeptide. Yet, contrary to expectations, TRRAP/GCN5L does not associate with the transcriptionally active core Mediator but rather with Mediator that contains the cdk8 subcomplex. Consequently, this derivative 'T/G-Mediator' complex does not directly activate transcription in a reconstituted human transcription system. However, within T/G-Mediator, cdk8 phosphorylates serine-10 on histone H3, which in turn stimulates H3K14 acetylation by GCN5L within the complex. Tandem phosphoacetylation of H3 correlates with transcriptional activation, and ChIP assays demonstrate co-occupancy of T/G-Mediator components at several activated genes in vivo. Moreover, cdk8 knockdown causes substantial reduction of global H3 phosphoacetylation, suggesting that T/G-Mediator is a major regulator of this H3 mark. Cooperative H3 modification provides a mechanistic basis for GCN5L association with cdk8-Mediator and also identifies a biochemical means by which cdk8 can indirectly activate gene expression. Indeed our results suggest that T/G-Mediator directs early events-such as modification of chromatin templates-in transcriptional activation.

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