HIV-1 gene expression is regulated by a viral transactivator protein (Tat) which induces transcriptional elongation of HIV-1 long tandem repeat (LTR). This induction requires hyperphosphorylation of the C-terminal domain (CTD) repeats of RNA polymerase II (Pol II). To achieve CTD hyperphosphorylation, Tat stimulates CTD kinases associated with general transcription factors of the promoter complex, specifically TFIIH-associated CDK7 and positive transcription factor b-associated CDK9 (cyclin-dependent kinase 9). Other studies indicate that Tat may bind an additional CTD kinase that regulates the target-specific phosphorylation of RNA Pol II CTD. We previously reported that Tat-associated T-cell-derived kinase (TTK), purified from human primary T-cells, stimulates Tat-dependent transcription of HIV-1 LTR in vivo [Nekhai, Shukla, Fernandez, Kumar and Lamb (2000) Virology 266, 246–256]. In the work presented here, we characterized the components of TTK by biochemical fractionation and the function of TTK in transcription assays in vitro. TTK uniquely co-purified with CDK2 and not with either CDK9 or CDK7. Tat induced the TTK-associated CDK2 kinase to phosphorylate CTD, specifically at Ser-2 residues. The TTK fraction restored Tat-mediated transcription activation of HIV-1 LTR in a HeLa nuclear extract immunodepleted of CDK9, but not in the HeLa nuclear extract double-depleted of CDK9 and CDK7. Direct microinjection of the TTK fraction augmented Tat transactivation of HIV-1 LTR in human primary HS68 fibroblasts. The results argue that TTK-associated CDK2 may function to maintain target-specific phosphorylation of RNA Pol II that is essential for Tat transactivation of HIV-1 promoter. They are also consistent with the observed cell-cycle-specific induction of viral gene transactivation.

Abbreviations used: TAR, transactivation response; CTD, C-terminal domain; CTDa, hypophosphorylated CTD; CTDo, hyperphosphorylated CTD; Pol II, polymerase II; TTK, Tat-associated T-cell-derived kinase; GST, glutathione S-transferase; MPF, M-phase-promoting factor; DTT, dithiothreitol, SP, sulphopropyl; CAK, CDK-activating kinase; NIPP1, nuclear inhibitor of protein phosphatase 1; MAT1, ménage-a-trois 1; LTR, long tandem repeat; CDK, cyclin-dependent kinase; DRB, 5,6-dichloro-1-β-d-ribofuranosylbenzimidazole; Tat, a viral transactivator protein.

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