Mbogning J, Nagy S, Pagé V, Schwer B, Shuman S, Fisher RP, Tanny JC
Cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (Cdk9) promotes elongation by RNA polymerase II (RNAPII), mRNA processing, and co-transcriptional histone modification. Cdk9 phosphorylates multiple targets, including the conserved RNAPII elongation factor Spt5 and RNAPII itself, but how these different modifications mediate Cdk9 functions is not known. Here we describe two Cdk9-dependent pathways in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe that involve distinct targets and elicit distinct biological outcomes. Phosphorylation of Spt5 by Cdk9 creates a direct binding site for Prf1/Rtf1, a transcription regulator with functional and physical links to the Polymerase Associated Factor (PAF) complex. PAF association with chromatin is also dependent on Cdk9 but involves alternate phosphoacceptor targets. Prf1 and PAF are biochemically separate in cell extracts, and genetic analyses show that Prf1 and PAF are functionally distinct and exert opposing effects on the RNAPII elongation complex. We propose that this opposition constitutes a Cdk9 auto-regulatory mechanism, such that a positive effect on elongation, driven by the PAF pathway, is kept in check by a negative effect of Prf1/Rtf1 and downstream mono-ubiquitylation of histone H2B. Thus, optimal RNAPII elongation may require balanced action of functionally distinct Cdk9 pathways.