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Oncogene. 1998 Nov 26;17(21):2733-41.

Regulation of CAK kinase activity by p53.

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Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of the Saarland, Homburg/Saar, Germany.


The growth suppressor p53 is an important key element which controls cell cycle progression in response to cellular stress like DNA damage. Its ability to act as transcriptional activator or repressor links transcription and cell cycle control. Several target genes selectively transactivated by p53 are implicated in growth control, apoptosis and DNA repair. Here we report the interaction of p53 with another important dual player of cell cycle control and transcription, the protein kinase complex CDK7/cyclin H/Mat1 (CDK activating kinase, CAK kinase). This is implicated in the activating phosphorylation of CDK2/cyclin A kinase required to allow cells to proceed through the G1/S transition, and on the other hand, as a component of the basal transcription factor TFIIH found to be necessary for CTD phosphorylation of RNA polymerase II in order to allow elongation of transcription. Based on previous binding studies of p53 with other C-terminal interaction partners of p53 we demonstrate a direct physical interaction of p53 with cyclin H in vitro and in vivo. As a consequence of this interaction we tested the influence of p53 on the kinase activity of CAK kinase for CTD and CDK2 phosphorylation. The addition of wild type p53 to the kinase reactions resulted in a significant downregulation of CDK2 phosphorylation and CTD phosphorylation by the CDK activating kinase. On the other hand addition of a mutant p53His175 failed to downregulate CDK2 and CTD phosphorylation by the CDK activating kinase. In an attempt to support our findings in vivo we measured CAK kinase activity in p21-/- and p53-/- mice embryonal fibroblasts under conditions when p53 gets activated by irradiation. In the case of p21-/- cells this led to a significant reduction of CTD phosphorylation activity of the CDK activating kinase by irradiation of the cells. On the other hand in p53 cells no downregulation of CTD phosphorylation activity of CAK kinase was observed indicating that this kind of negative regulation of CAK kinase activity is exclusively due to a functional p53. These findings imply a direct involvement of p53 in triggering growth arrest by its interaction with the CDK activating kinase complex without the need of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (CKIs) and potentially suggest a new mechanism for p53-dependent apoptosis.

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