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1.  CAK-independent Activation of CDK6 by a Viral Cyclin 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2001;12(12):3987-3999.
In normal cells, activation of cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks) requires binding to a cyclin and phosphorylation by the cdk-activating kinase (CAK). The Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus encodes a protein with similarity to D-type cyclins. This KSHV-cyclin activates CDK6, alters its substrate specificity, and renders CDK6 insensitive to inhibition by the cdk inhibitor p16INK4a. Here we investigate the regulation of the CDK6/KSHV-cyclin kinase with the use of purified proteins and a cell-based assay. We find that KSHV-cyclin can activate CDK6 independent of phosphorylation by CAK in vitro. In addition, CAK phosphorylation decreased the p16INK4a sensitivity of CDK6/KSHV-cyclin complexes. In cells, expression of CDK6 or to a lesser degree of a nonphosphorylatable CDK6T177A together with KSHV-cyclin induced apoptosis, indicating that CDK6 activation by KSHV-cyclin can proceed in the absence of phosphorylation by CAK in vivo. Coexpression of p16 partially protected cells from cell death. p16 and KSHV-cyclin can form a ternary complex with CDK6 that can be detected by binding assays as well as by conformational changes in CDK6. The Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus has adopted a clever strategy to render cell cycle progression independent of mitogenic signals, cdk inhibition, or phosphorylation by CAK.
PMCID: PMC60770  PMID: 11739795
2.  Identification of a cyclin-cdk2 recognition motif present in substrates and p21-like cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors. 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1996;16(12):6623-6633.
Understanding how cyclin-cdk complexes recognize their substrates is a central problem in cell cycle biology. We identified an E2F1-derived eight-residue peptide which blocked the binding of cyclin A and E-cdk2 complexes to E2F1 and p21. Short peptides spanning similar sequences in p107, p130, and p21-like cdk inhibitors likewise bound to cyclin A-cdk2 and cyclin E-cdk2. In addition, these peptides promoted formation of stable cyclin A-cdk2 complexes in vitro but inhibited the phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein by cyclin A- but not cyclin B-associated kinases. Mutation of the cyclin-cdk2 binding motifs in p107 and E2F1 likewise prevented their phosphorylation by cyclin A-associated kinases in vitro. The cdk inhibitor p21 was found to contain two functional copies of this recognition motif, as determined by in vitro kinase binding/inhibition assays and in vivo growth suppression assays. Thus, these studies have identified a cyclin A- and E-cdk2 substrate recognition motif. Furthermore, these data suggest that p21-like cdk inhibitors function, at least in part, by blocking the interaction of substrates with cyclin-cdk2 complexes.
PMCID: PMC231664  PMID: 8943316
3.  p27Kip1 Inhibits Cyclin D-Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4 by Two Independent Modes▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2008;29(4):986-999.
Cell cycle progression is regulated by cyclin-dependent kinases (cdk's), which in turn are regulated by their interactions with stoichiometric inhibitors, such as p27Kip1. Although p27 associates with cyclin D-cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (cdk4) constitutively, whether or not it inhibits this complex is dependent on the absence or presence of a specific tyrosine phosphorylation that converts p27 from a bound inhibitor to a bound noninhibitor under different growth conditions. This phosphorylation occurs within the 3-10 helix of p27 and may dislodge the helix from cdk4's active site to allow ATP binding. Here we show that the interaction of nonphosphorylated p27 with cdk4 also prevents the activating phosphorylation of the T-loop by cyclin H-cdk7, the cdk-activating kinase (CAK). Even though the cyclin H-cdk7 complex is present and active in contact-arrested cells, p27's association with cyclin D-cdk4 prevents T-loop phosphorylation. When p27 is tyrosine phosphorylated in proliferating cells or in vitro with the tyrosine Y kinase Abl, phosphorylation of cdk4 by cyclin H-cdk7 is permitted, even without dissociation of p27. This suggests that upon release from the contact-arrested state, a temporal order for the reactivation of inactive p27-cyclin D-cdk4 complexes must exist: p27 must be Y phosphorylated first, directly permitting cyclin H-cdk7 phosphorylation of residue T172 and the consequent restoration of kinase activity. The non-Y-phosphorylated p27-cyclin D-cdk4 complex could be phosphorylated by purified Csk1, a single-subunit CAK from fission yeast, but was still inactive due to p27's occlusion of the active site. Thus, the two modes by which p27 inhibits cyclin D-cdk4 are independent and may reinforce one another to inhibit kinase activity in contact-arrested cells, while maintaining a reservoir of preformed complex that can be activated rapidly upon cell cycle reentry.
PMCID: PMC2643810  PMID: 19075005
4.  Why minimal is not optimal 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(14):2600-2605.
Progression through the eukaryotic cell division cycle is governed by the activity of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs). For a CDK to become active it must (1) bind a positive regulatory subunit (cyclin) and (2) be phosphorylated on its activation (T) loop. In metazoans, multiple CDK catalytic subunits, each with a distinct set of preferred cyclin partners, regulate the cell cycle, but it has been difficult to assign functions to individual CDKs in vivo. Biochemical analyses and experiments with dominant-negative alleles suggested that specific CDK/cyclin complexes regulate different events, but genetic loss of interphase CDKs (Cdk2, -4 and -6), alone or in combination, did not block proliferation of cells in culture. These knockout and knockdown studies suggested redundancy or plasticity built into the CDK network but did not address whether there was true redundancy in normal cells with a full complement of CDKs. Here, we discuss recent work that took a chemical-genetic approach to reveal that the activity of a genetically non-essential CDK, Cdk2, is required for cell proliferation when normal cyclin pairing is maintained. These results have implications for the systems-level organization of the cell cycle, for regulation of the restriction point and G₁/S transition and for efforts to target Cdk2 therapeutically in human cancers.
PMCID: PMC3409006  PMID: 22732498
Cdk2; DNA synthesis (S) phase; analog-sensitive (AS) kinase; cancer drug discovery; cell cycle; chemical genetics; cyclin; cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK); restriction point
5.  Mitosis persists in the absence of Cdk1 activity when proteolysis or protein phosphatase activity is suppressed 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2007;179(4):671-685.
Cellular transition to anaphase and mitotic exit has been linked to the loss of cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1) kinase activity as a result of anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C)–dependent specific degradation of its cyclin B1 subunit. Cdk1 inhibition by roscovitine is known to induce premature mitotic exit, whereas inhibition of the APC/C-dependent degradation of cyclin B1 by MG132 induces mitotic arrest. In this study, we find that combining both drugs causes prolonged mitotic arrest in the absence of Cdk1 activity. Different Cdk1 and proteasome inhibitors produce similar results, indicating that the effect is not drug specific. We verify mitotic status by the retention of mitosis-specific markers and Cdk1 phosphorylation substrates, although cells can undergo late mitotic furrowing while still in mitosis. Overall, we conclude that continuous Cdk1 activity is not essential to maintain the mitotic state and that phosphatase activity directed at Cdk1 substrates is largely quiescent during mitosis. Furthermore, the degradation of a protein other than cyclin B1 is essential to activate a phosphatase that, in turn, enables mitotic exit.
PMCID: PMC2080905  PMID: 18025303
6.  The transcriptional co-activator PCAF regulates cdk2 activity 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(21):7072-7084.
Cyclin dependent kinases (cdks) regulate cell cycle progression and transcription. We report here that the transcriptional co-activator PCAF directly interacts with cdk2. This interaction is mainly produced during S and G2/M phases of the cell cycle. As a consequence of this association, PCAF inhibits the activity of cyclin/cdk2 complexes. This effect is specific for cdk2 because PCAF does not inhibit either cyclin D3/cdk6 or cyclin B/cdk1 activities. The inhibition is neither competitive with ATP, nor with the substrate histone H1 suggesting that somehow PCAF disturbs cyclin/cdk2 complexes. We also demonstrate that overexpression of PCAF in the cells inhibits cdk2 activity and arrests cell cycle progression at S and G2/M. This blockade is dependent on cdk2 because it is rescued by the simultaneous overexpression of this kinase. Moreover, we also observed that PCAF acetylates cdk2 at lysine 33. As this lysine is essential for the interaction with ATP, acetylation of this residue inhibits cdk2 activity. Thus, we report here that PCAF inhibits cyclin/cdk2 activity by two different mechanisms: (i) by somehow affecting cyclin/cdk2 interaction and (ii) by acetylating K33 at the catalytic pocket of cdk2. These findings identify a previously unknown mechanism that regulates cdk2 activity.
PMCID: PMC2790897  PMID: 19773423
7.  The development of a selective cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor which demonstrates anti-tumor activity 
Cancer research  2009;69(15):6208-6215.
Normal progression through the cell cycle requires the sequential action of cyclin-dependent kinases CDK1, CDK2, CDK4 and CDK6. Direct or indirect deregulation of CDK activity is a feature of almost all cancers, and has led to the development of CDK inhibitors as anti-cancer agents. The CDK-activating kinase (CAK) plays a critical role in regulating cell cycle by mediating the activating phosphorylation of CDK1, CDK2, CDK4 and CDK6. As such, CDK7, which also regulates transcription as part of the TFIIH basal transcription factor, is an attractive target for the development of anti-cancer drugs. Computer modelling of the CDK7 structure was used to design potential potent CDK7 inhibitors. Here, we show that a pyrazolo[1, 5–a]pyrimidine-derived compound, BS-181, inhibited CAK activity with an IC50=21 nM. Testing of other CDKs, as well as another 69 kinases showed that BS-181 only inhibited CDK2 at concentrations lower than 1 μM, with CDK2 being inhibited 35-fold less potently (IC50=750 nM) than CDK7. In MCF-7 cells, BS-181 inhibited the phosphorylation of CDK7 substrates, promoted cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, to inhibit the growth of cancer cell lines and showed anti-tumor effects in vivo. The drug was stable in vivo with a plasma elimination half-life in mice of 405 min after intraperitoneal administration of 10 mg/kg. The same dose of drug inhibited the growth of MCF-7 human xenografts in nude mice. BS-181 therefore provides the first example of a potent and selective CDK7 inhibitor with potential as an anti-cancer agent.
PMCID: PMC2875168  PMID: 19638587
8.  TFIIH and P-TEFb Coordinate Transcription with Capping Enzyme Recruitment at Specific Genes in Fission Yeast 
Molecular cell  2009;33(6):738-751.
Cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) are subunits of transcription factor (TF) IIH and positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb). To define their functions, we mutated the TFIIH-associated kinase Mcs6 and P-TEFb homologs Cdk9 and Lsk1 of fission yeast, making them sensitive to bulky purine analogs. Selective inhibition of Mcs6 or Cdk9 blocks cell division, alters RNA polymerase (Pol) II carboxyl-terminal domain (CTD) phosphorylation and represses specific, overlapping subsets of transcripts. At a common target gene, both CDKs must be active for normal Pol II occupancy, and Spt5—a CDK substrate and regulator of elongation—accumulates disproportionately to Pol II when either kinase is inhibited. In contrast, Mcs6 activity is sufficient, and necessary, to recruit the Cdk9/Pcm1 (mRNA cap methyltransferase) complex. In vitro, phosphorylation of the CTD by Mcs6 stimulates subsequent phosphorylation by Cdk9. We propose that TFIIH primes the CTD and promotes recruitment of P-TEFb/Pcm1, serving to couple elongation and capping of select pre-mRNAs.
PMCID: PMC2693121  PMID: 19328067
9.  Cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 control tumor progression and direct glucose oxidation in the pentose cycle 
Cyclin-dependent kinases CDK4 and CDK6 are essential for the control of the cell cycle through the G1 phase. Aberrant expression of CDK4 and CDK6 is a hallmark of cancer, which would suggest that CDK4 and CDK6 are attractive targets for cancer therapy. Herein, we report that calcein AM (the calcein acetoxymethyl-ester) is a potent specific inhibitor of CDK4 and CDK6 in HCT116 human colon adenocarcinoma cells, inhibiting retinoblastoma protein (pRb) phosphorylation and inducing cell cycle arrest in the G1 phase. The metabolic effects of calcein AM on HCT116 cells were also evaluated and the flux between the oxidative and non-oxidative branches of the pentose phosphate pathway was significantly altered. To elucidate whether these metabolic changes were due to the inhibition of CDK4 and CDK6, we also characterized the metabolic profile of a CDK4, CDK6 and CDK2 triple knockout of mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The results show that the metabolic profile associated with the depletion of CDK4, CDK6 and CDK2 coincides with the metabolic changes induced by calcein AM on HCT116 cells, thus confirming that the inhibition of CDK4 and CDK6 disrupts the balance between the oxidative and non-oxidative branches of the pentose phosphate pathway. Taken together, these results indicate that low doses of calcein can halt cell division and kill tumor cells. Thus, selective inhibition of CDK4 and CDK6 may be of greater pharmacological interest, since inhibitors of these kinases affect both cell cycle progression and the robust metabolic profile of tumors.
PMCID: PMC3361763  PMID: 22661920
Cyclin-dependent kinases; CDK-inhibitor; Tracer-based metabolomics; Pentose phosphate pathway; Phase-plane analysis
10.  Intramolecular interactions stabilizing compact conformations of the intrinsically disordered kinase-inhibitor domain of Sic1: a molecular dynamics investigation 
Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (CKIs) are key regulatory proteins of the eukaryotic cell cycle, which modulate cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) activity. CKIs perform their inhibitory effect by the formation of ternary complexes with a target kinase and its cognate cyclin. These regulators generally belong to the class of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs), which lack a well-defined and organized three-dimensional (3D) structure in their free state, undergoing folding upon binding to specific partners. Unbound IDPs are not merely random-coil structures, but can present intrinsically folded structural units (IFSUs) and collapsed conformations. These structural features can be relevant to protein function in vivo. The yeast CKI Sic1 is a 284-amino acid IDP that binds to Cdk1 in complex with the Clb5,6 cyclins, preventing phosphorylation of G1 substrates and, therefore, entrance to the S phase. Sic1 degradation, triggered by multiple phosphorylation events, promotes cell-cycle progression. Previous experimental studies pointed out a propensity of Sic1 and its isolated domains to populate both extended and compact conformations. The present contribution provides models for compact conformations of the Sic1 kinase-inhibitory domain (KID) by all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations in explicit solvent and in the absence of interactors. The results are integrated by spectroscopic and spectrometric data. Helical IFSUs are identified, along with networks of intramolecular interactions. The results identify a group of putative hub residues and networks of electrostatic interactions, which are likely to be involved in the stabilization of the globular states.
PMCID: PMC3504315  PMID: 23189058
intrinsically disordered proteins; Sic1; electrostatic interactions; cyclin-dependent kinase; molecular dynamics simulations; electrospray ionization mass spectrometry
11.  Requirements for Cdk7 in the assembly of Cdk1/cyclin B and activation of Cdk2 revealed by chemical genetics in human cells 
Molecular cell  2007;25(6):839-850.
Cell division is controlled by cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs). In metazoans, S-phase onset coincides with activation of Cdk2, whereas Cdk1 triggers mitosis. Both Cdk1 and -2 require cyclin-binding and T-loop phosphorylation for full activity. The only known CDK-activating kinase (CAK) in metazoans is Cdk7, which is also part of the transcription machinery. To test the requirements for Cdk7 in vivo, we replaced wild-type Cdk7 with a version sensitive to bulky ATP analogs in human cancer cells. Selective inhibition of Cdk7 in G1 prevents activation (but not formation) of Cdk2/cyclin complexes and delays S phase. Inhibiting Cdk7 in G2 blocks entry to mitosis, and disrupts Cdk1/cyclin B complex assembly, indicating that the two steps of Cdk1 activation—cyclin-binding and T-loop phosphorylation—are mutually dependent. Therefore, by combining chemical genetics and homologous gene replacement in somatic cells, we reveal different modes of CDK activation by Cdk7 at two distinct execution points in the cell cycle.
PMCID: PMC1858677  PMID: 17386261
12.  Mutational Analysis of the Cy Motif from p21 Reveals Sequence Degeneracy and Specificity for Different Cyclin-Dependent Kinases 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(15):4868-4874.
Inhibitors, activators, and substrates of cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks) utilize a cyclin-binding sequence, known as a Cy or RXL motif, to bind directly to the cyclin subunit. Alanine scanning mutagenesis of the Cy motif of the cdk inhibitor p21 revealed that the conserved arginine or leucine (constituting the conserved RXL sequence) was important for p21's ability to inhibit cyclin E-cdk2 activity. Further analysis of mutant Cy motifs showed, however, that RXL was neither necessary nor sufficient for a functional cyclin-binding motif. Replacement of either of these two residues with small hydrophobic residues such as valine preserved p21's inhibitory activity on cyclin E-cdk2, while mutations in either polar or charged residues dramatically impaired p21's inhibitory activity. Expressing p21N with non-RXL Cy sequences inhibited growth of mammalian cells, providing in vivo confirmation that RXL was not necessary for a functional Cy motif. We also show that the variant Cy motifs identified in this study can effectively target substrates to cyclin-cdk complexes for phosphorylation, providing additional evidence that these non-RXL motifs are functional. Finally, binding studies using p21 Cy mutants demonstrated that the Cy motif was essential for the association of p21 with cyclin E-cdk2 but not with cyclin A-cdk2. Taking advantage of this differential specificity toward cyclin E versus cyclin A, we demonstrate that cell growth inhibition was absolutely dependent on the ability of a p21 derivative to inhibit cyclin E-cdk2.
PMCID: PMC87195  PMID: 11438644
13.  Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor therapy for hematologic malignancies 
Cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) regulate cell cycle progression. Certain CDKs (e.g., CDK7, CDK9) also control cellular transcription. Consequently, CDKs represent attractive targets for anti-cancer drug development, as their aberrant expression is common in diverse malignancies, and CDK inhibition can trigger apoptosis. CDK inhibition may be particularly successful in hematologic malignancies, which are more sensitive to inhibition of cell cycling and apoptosis induction.
A number of CDK inhibitors, ranging from pan-CDK inhibitors such as flavopiridol (alvocidib) to highly selective inhibitors of specific CDKs (e.g., CDK4/6), such as PD0332991, that are currently in various phases of development, are profiled in this review. Flavopiridol induces cell cycle arrest, and globally represses transcription via CDK9 inhibition. The latter may represent its major mechanism of action via down-regulation of multiple short-lived proteins. In early phase trials, flavopiridol has shown encouraging efficacy across a wide spectrum of hematologic malignancies. Early results with dinaciclib and PD0332991 also appear promising.
In general, the anti-tumor efficacy of CDK inhibitor monotherapy is modest, and rational combinations are being explored, including those involving other targeted agents. While selective CDK4/6 inhibition might be effective against certain malignancies, broad spectrum CDK inhibition will likely be required for most cancers.
PMCID: PMC4039040  PMID: 23647051
14.  A cyclin without CDKs: Cyclin F controls genome stability through ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis 
Trends in cell biology  2012;23(3):135-140.
Cell cycle transitions are driven by the periodic oscillations of cyclins, which bind and activate CDKs (cyclin-dependent kinases) to phosphorylate target substrates. Cyclin F uses a substrate recruitment strategy similar to that of the other cyclins, but its associated catalytic activity is substantially different. Indeed, cyclin F is the founding member of the F-box family of proteins, which are the substrate recognition subunits of SCF (Skp1-Cul1-F-box protein) ubiquitin ligase complexes. Here, we discuss cyclin F function and recently identified substrates of SCFcyclin F involved in dNTP production, centrosome duplication, and spindle formation. We highlight the relevance of cyclin F in controlling genome stability through ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis and the implications for cancer development.
PMCID: PMC3597434  PMID: 23182110
15.  A phosphatase threshold sets the level of Cdk1 activity in early mitosis in budding yeast 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2011;22(19):3595-3608.
The Wee1 kinase inhibits cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1) during early mitosis. A low level of Cdk1 activity must escape Wee1 inhibition to initiate early mitotic events, but the underlying mechanisms have remained unknown. In this paper, we show that a specific form of protein phosphatase 2A opposes activation of Wee1, which allows low-level activation of Cdk1 in early mitosis.
Entry into mitosis is initiated by synthesis of cyclins, which bind and activate cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1). Cyclin synthesis is gradual, yet activation of Cdk1 occurs in a stepwise manner: a low level of Cdk1 activity is initially generated that triggers early mitotic events, which is followed by full activation of Cdk1. Little is known about how stepwise activation of Cdk1 is achieved. A key regulator of Cdk1 is the Wee1 kinase, which phosphorylates and inhibits Cdk1. Wee1 and Cdk1 show mutual regulation: Cdk1 phosphorylates Wee1, which activates Wee1 to inhibit Cdk1. Further phosphorylation events inactivate Wee1. We discovered that a specific form of protein phosphatase 2A (PP2ACdc55) opposes the initial phosphorylation of Wee1 by Cdk1. In vivo analysis, in vitro reconstitution, and mathematical modeling suggest that PP2ACdc55 sets a threshold that limits activation of Wee1, thereby allowing a low constant level of Cdk1 activity to escape Wee1 inhibition in early mitosis. These results define a new role for PP2ACdc55 and reveal a systems-level mechanism by which dynamically opposed kinase and phosphatase activities can modulate signal strength.
PMCID: PMC3183015  PMID: 21849476
16.  Cyclin-binding motifs are essential for the function of p21CIP1. 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1996;16(9):4673-4682.
The cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) inhibitor p21 is induced by the tumor suppressor p53 and is required for the G1-S block in cells with DNA damage. We report that there are two copies of a cyclin-binding motif in p21, Cy1 and Cy2, which interact with the cyclins independently of Cdk2. The cyclin-binding motifs of p21 are required for optimum inhibition of cyclin-Cdk kinases in vitro and for growth suppression in vivo. Peptides containing only the Cy1 or Cy2 motif partially inhibit cyclin-Cdk kinase activity in vitro and DNA replication in Xenopus egg extracts. A monoclonal antibody which recognizes the Cy1 site of p21 specifically disrupts the association of p21 with cyclin E-Cdk2 and with cyclin D1-Cdk4 in cell extracts. Taken together, these observations suggest that the cyclin-binding motif of p21 is important for kinase inhibition and for formation of p21-cyclin-Cdk complexes in the cell. Finally, we show that the cyclin-Cdk complex is partially active if associated with only the cyclin-binding motif of p21, providing an explanation for how p21 is found associated with active cyclin-Cdk complexes in vivo. The Cy sequences may be general motifs used by Cdk inhibitors or substrates to interact with the cyclin in a cyclin-Cdk complex.
PMCID: PMC231467  PMID: 8756624
17.  Optimization of non-ATP competitive CDK/cyclin groove Inhibitors through REPLACE mediated Fragment Assembly 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(4):1573-1582.
A major challenge in drug discovery is to develop and improve methods for targeting protein-protein interactions. Further exemplification of the REPLACE strategy for generating inhibitors of protein-protein interactions demonstrated that it can be used to optimize fragment alternatives of key determinants, to combine these in an effective way and was achieved for compounds targeting the CDK2 substrate recruitment site on the cyclin regulatory subunit. Phenylheterocyclic isosteres replacing a critical charge-charge interaction provided new structural insights for binding to the cyclin groove. In particular, these results shed light onto the key contributions of a H-bond observed in crystal structures of N-terminally capped peptides. Furthermore the structure-activity relationship of a bisarylether C-terminal capping group mimicking dipeptide interactions, was probed through ring substitutions, allowing increased complementarity with the primary hydrophobic pocket. This study further validates REPLACE as an effective strategy for converting peptidic compounds to more pharmaceutically relevant compounds.
PMCID: PMC3692612  PMID: 23323521
18.  The CDK9 Tail Determines the Reaction Pathway of Positive Transcription Elongation Factor b 
Structure(London, England:1993)  2012;20(10):1788-1795.
CDK9, the kinase of positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb), stimulates transcription elongation by phosphorylating RNA polymerase II and transcription elongation factors. Using kinetic analysis of a human P-TEFb complex consisting of CDK9 and cyclin T, we show that the CDK9 C-terminal tail sequence is important for the catalytic mechanism and imposes an ordered binding of substrates and release of products. Crystallographic analysis of a CDK9/cyclin T complex in which the C-terminal tail partially blocks the ATP binding site reveals a possible reaction intermediate. Biochemical characterization of CDK9 mutants supports a model in which the CDK9 tail cycles through different conformational states. We propose that this mechanism is critical for the pattern of CTD Ser2 phosphorylation on actively transcribed genes.
Graphical Abstract
► The CDK9 C-terminal tail is important for the catalytic mechanism ► CDK9 phosphorylates the CTD in a nonprocessive manner ► The CDK9 tail folds over the ATP binding site during the catalytic cycle
CDK9 kinase stimulates transcription elongation and is a drug target for cancer therapy. Baumli et al. describe the conformational states of CDK9 as it places multiple phosphorylations on substrates. The observed mechanism is critical for the phosphorylation pattern that is generated on actively transcribed genes.
PMCID: PMC3469819  PMID: 22959624
19.  Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma recruits the positive transcription elongation factor b complex to activate transcription and promote adipogenesis 
Molecular Endocrinology  2006;20(7):1494-1505.
Positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb) phosphorylates the C-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II (RNA pol II), facilitating transcriptional elongation. Beside its participation in general transcription, P-TEFb is recruited to specific promoters by some transcription factors such as c-Myc or MyoD. The P-TEFb complex is composed of a cyclin dependent kinase (cdk9) subunit and a regulatory partner (cyclin T1, cyclin T2, or cyclin K). Since cdk9 has been shown to participate in differentiation processes, such as muscle cell differentiation, we studied a possible role of cdk9 in adipogenesis. In this study we show that the expression of the cdk9 p55 isoform is highly regulated during 3T3-L1 adipocyte differentiation at RNA and protein levels. Furthermore, cdk9, as well as cyclin T1 and cyclin T2, show differences in nuclear localization at distinct stages of adipogenesis. Overexpression of cdk9 increases the adipogenic potential of 3T3-L1 cells, whereas inhibition of cdk9 by specific cdk inhibitors, and dominant negative cdk9 mutant impairs adipogenesis. We show that the positive effects of cdk9 on the differentiation of 3T3-L1 cells are mediated by a direct interaction with and phosphorylation of PPARγ which is the master regulator of this process, on the promoter of PPARγ target genes. PPARγ-cdk9 interaction results in increased transcriptional activity of PPARγ and therefore increased adipogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2259259  PMID: 16484339
3T3 Cells; Adipogenesis; drug effects; physiology; Animals; CHO Cells; Cell Differentiation; Cell Division; drug effects; Cricetinae; Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 9; antagonists & inhibitors; metabolism; physiology; Dichlororibofuranosylbenzimidazole; pharmacology; Gene Expression Regulation; Mice; PPAR gamma; metabolism; Phosphorylation; Positive Transcriptional Elongation Factor B; metabolism; Protein Binding; Adipogenesis; PPARγ; Nuclear receptors; P-TEFb; RNA pol II; Transcription
20.  Inhibition of the Cyclin-Dependent Kinases at the Beginning of Human Cytomegalovirus Infection Specifically Alters the Levels and Localization of the RNA Polymerase II Carboxyl-Terminal Domain Kinases cdk9 and cdk7 at the Viral Transcriptosome▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;82(1):394-407.
We previously reported that defined components of the host transcription machinery are recruited to human cytomegalovirus immediate-early (IE) transcription sites, including cdk9 and cdk7 (S. Tamrakar, A. J. Kapasi, and D. H. Spector, J. Virol. 79:15477-15493, 2005). In this report, we further document the complexity of this site, referred to as the transcriptosome, through identification of additional resident proteins, including viral UL69 and cellular cyclin T1, Brd4, histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC1), and HDAC2. To examine the role of cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks) in the establishment of this site, we used roscovitine, a specific inhibitor of cdk1, cdk2, cdk7, and cdk9, that alters processing of viral IE transcripts and inhibits expression of viral early genes. In the presence of roscovitine, IE2, cyclin T1, Brd4, HDAC1, and HDAC2 accumulate at the transcriptosome. However, accumulation of cdk9 and cdk7 was specifically inhibited. Roscovitine treatment also resulted in decreased levels of cdk9 and cdk7 RNA. There was a corresponding reduction in cdk9 protein but only a modest decrease in cdk7 protein. However, overexpression of cdk9 does not compensate for the effects of roscovitine on cdk9 localization or viral gene expression. Delaying the addition of roscovitine until 8 h postinfection prevented all of the observed effects of the cdk inhibitor. These data suggest that IE2 and multiple cellular factors needed for viral RNA synthesis accumulate within the first 8 h at the viral transcriptosome and that functional cdk activity is required for the specific recruitment of cdk7 and cdk9 during this time interval.
PMCID: PMC2224385  PMID: 17942543
21.  Activation of cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (cdk4) by mouse MO15-associated kinase. 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1994;14(11):7265-7275.
The assembly of functional holoenzymes composed of regulatory D-type cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks) is rate limiting for progression through the G1 phase of the mammalian somatic cell cycle. Complexes between D-type cyclins and their major catalytic subunit, cdk4, are catalytically inactive until cyclin-bound cdk4 undergoes phosphorylation on a single threonyl residue (Thr-172). This step is catalyzed by a cdk-activating kinase (CAK) functionally analogous to the enzyme which phosphorylates cdc2 and cdk2 at Thr-161/160. Here, we demonstrate that the catalytic subunit of mouse cdc2/cdk2 CAK (a 39-kDa protein designated p39MO15) can assemble with a regulatory protein present in either insect or mammalian cells to generate a CAK activity capable of phosphorylating and enzymatically activating both cdk2 and cdk4 in complexes with their respective cyclin partners. A newly identified 37-kDa cyclin-like protein (cyclin H [R. P. Fisher and D. O. Morgan, Cell 78:713-724, 1994]) can assemble with p39MO15 to activate both cyclin A-cdk2 and cyclin D-cdk4 in vitro, implying that CAK is structurally reminiscent of cyclin-cdk complexes themselves. Antisera produced to the p39MO15 subunit can completely deplete mammalian cell lysates of CAK activity for both cyclin A-cdk2 and cyclin D-cdk4, with recovery of activity in the resulting immune complexes. By using an immune complex CAK assay, CAK activity for cyclin A-cdk2 and cyclin D-cdk4 was detected both in quiescent cells and invariantly throughout the cell cycle. Therefore, although it is essential for the enzymatic activation of cyclin-cdk complexes, CAK appears to be neither rate limiting for the emergence of cells from quiescence nor subject to upstream regulatory control by stimulatory mitogens.
PMCID: PMC359261  PMID: 7935441
22.  Docking-Dependent Regulation of the Rb Tumor Suppressor Protein by Cdk4 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(12):5606-5619.
Phosphorylation of target proteins by cyclin D1-Cdk4 requires both substrate docking and kinase activity. In addition to the ability of cyclin D1-Cdk4 to catalyze the phosphorylation of consensus sites within the primary amino acid sequence of a substrate, maximum catalytic activity requires the enzyme complex to anchor at a site remote from the phospho-acceptor site. A novel Cdk4 docking motif has been defined within a stretch of 19 amino acids from the C-terminal domain of the Rb protein that are essential for Cdk4 binding. Mutation or deletion of the docking motif prevents Cdk4-dependent phosphorylation of full-length Rb protein or C-terminal Rb fragments in vitro and in cells, while a peptide encompassing the Cdk4 docking motif specifically inhibits Cdk4-dependent phosphorylation of Rb. Cyclin D1-Cdk4 can overcome the growth-suppressive activity of Rb in both cell cycle progression and colony formation assays; however, while mutants of Rb in which the Cdk4 docking site has been either deleted or mutated retain growth suppressor activity, they are resistant to inactivation by cyclin D1-Cdk4. Finally, binding of Cdk4 to its docking site can inhibit cleavage of exogenous and endogenous Rb in response to distinct apoptotic signals. The Cdk4 docking motif in Rb gives insight into the mechanism by which enzyme specificity is ensured and highlights a role for Cdk4 docking in maintaining the Rb protein in a form that favors cell survival rather than apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC419867  PMID: 15169919
23.  Double-negative feedback between S-phase cyclin-CDK and CKI generates abruptness in the G1/S switch 
The G1/S transition is a crucial decision point in the cell cycle. At G1/S, there is an abrupt switch from a state of high cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) inhibitor (CKI) levels and low S-phase CDK activity to a state of high S-phase CDK activity and degraded CKI. In budding yeast, this transition is triggered by phosphorylation of the Cdk1 inhibitor Sic1 at multiple sites by G1-phase CDK (Cln1,2-Cdk1) and S-phase CDK (Clb5,6-Cdk1) complexes. Using mathematical modeling we demonstrate that the mechanistic basis for the abruptness of the G1/S transition is the highly specific phosphorylation of Sic1 by S-phase CDK complex. This switch is generated by a double-negative feedback loop in which S-CDK1 phosphorylates Sic1, thus targeting it for destruction, and thereby liberating further S-CDK1 from the inhibitory Sic1-S-CDK1 complex. Our model predicts that the abruptness of the switch depends upon a strong binding affinity within the Sic1-S-CDK inhibitory complex. In vitro phosphorylation analysis using purified yeast proteins revealed that free Clb5-Cdk1 can create positive feedback by phosphorylating Sic1 that is bound in the inhibitory complex, and that Sic1 inhibits Clb5-Cdk1 with a sub-nanomolar inhibition constant. Our model also predicts that if the G1-phase CDK complex is too efficient at targeting Sic1 for destruction, then G1/S becomes a smooth and readily reversible transition. We propose that the optimal role for the G1-phase CDK in the switch would not be to act as a kinase activity directly responsible for abrupt degradation of CKI, but rather to act as a priming signal that initiates a positive feedback loop driven by emerging free S-phase CDK.
PMCID: PMC3515773  PMID: 23230424
Cdk1; CDK; CKI; cyclin-dependent kinases; Sic1; G1/S; switch; cell cycle
24.  Mechanisms of Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inactivation by Progestins 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1998;18(4):1812-1825.
The steroid hormone progesterone regulates proliferation and differentiation in the mammary gland and uterus by cell cycle phase-specific actions. In breast cancer cells the predominant effect of synthetic progestins is long-term growth inhibition and arrest in G1 phase. Progestin-mediated growth arrest of T-47D breast cancer cells was preceded by inhibition of cyclin D1-Cdk4, cyclin D3-Cdk4, and cyclin E-Cdk2 kinase activities in vitro and reduced phosphorylation of pRB and p107. This was accompanied by decreases in the expression of cyclins D1, D3, and E, decreased abundance of cyclin D1- and cyclin D3-Cdk4 complexes, increased association of the cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor p27 with the remaining Cdk4 complexes, and changes in the molecular masses and compositions of cyclin E complexes. In control cells cyclin E eluted from Superdex 200 as two peaks of ∼120 and ∼200 kDa, with the 120-kDa peak displaying greater cyclin E-associated kinase activity. Following progestin treatment, almost all of the cyclin E was in the 200-kDa, low-activity form, which was associated with the CDK inhibitors p21 and p27; this change preceded the inhibition of cell cycle progression. These data suggest preferential formation of this higher-molecular-weight, CDK inhibitor-bound form and a reduced number of cyclin E-Cdk2 complexes as mechanisms for the decreased cyclin E-associated kinase activity following progestin treatment. Ectopic expression of cyclin D1 in progestin-inhibited cells led to the reappearance of the 120-kDa active form of cyclin E-Cdk2 preceding the resumption of cell cycle progression. Thus, decreased cyclin expression and consequent increased CDK inhibitor association are likely to mediate the decreases in CDK activity accompanying progestin-mediated growth inhibition.
PMCID: PMC121411  PMID: 9528753
25.  Viral Cyclin–Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 Complexes Initiate Nuclear DNA Replication 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(2):624-635.
The cyclins encoded by Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus and herpesvirus saimiri are homologs of human D-type cyclins. However, when complexed to cdk6, they have several activities that distinguish them from D-type cyclin-cdk6 complexes, including resistance to cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors and an enhanced substrate range. We find that viral cyclins interact with and phosphorylate proteins involved in replication initiation. Using mammalian in vitro replication systems, we show that viral cyclin-cdk6 complexes can directly trigger the initiation of DNA synthesis in isolated late-G1-phase nuclei. Viral cyclin-cdk6 complexes share this capacity with cyclin A-cdk2, demonstrating that in addition to functioning as G1-phase cyclin-cdk complexes, they function as S-phase cyclin-cdk complexes.
PMCID: PMC86634  PMID: 11134348

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