Journal of virology

Retroviral cyclin controls cyclin-dependent kinase 8-mediated transcription elongation and reinitiation.

PMID 25741012


Walleye dermal sarcoma virus (WDSV) infection is associated with the seasonal development and regression of walleye dermal sarcoma. Previous work showed that the retroviral cyclin (RV-cyclin), encoded by WDSV, has separable cyclin box and transcription activation domains. It binds to cyclin-dependent kinase 8 (CDK8) and enhances its kinase activity. CDK8 is evolutionarily conserved and is frequently overexpressed in human cancers. It is normally activated by cyclin C and is required for transcription elongation of the serum response genes (immediate early genes [IEGs]) FOS, EGR1, and cJUN. The IEGs drive cell proliferation, and their expression is brief and highly regulated. Here we show that constitutive expression of RV-cyclin in the HCT116 colon cancer cell line significantly increases the level of IEG expression in response to serum stimulation. Quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) and nuclear run-on assays provide evidence that RV-cyclin does not alter the initiation of IEG transcription but does enhance the overall rate of transcription elongation and maintains transcription reinitiation. RV-cyclin does not increase activating phosphorylation events in the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway and does not inhibit decay of IEG mRNAs. At the EGR1 gene locus, RV-cyclin increases and maintains RNA polymerase II (Pol II) occupancy after serum stimulation, in conjunction with increased and extended EGR1 gene expression. The RV-cyclin increases CDK8 occupancy at the EGR1 gene locus before and after serum stimulation. Both of RV-cyclin's functional domains, i.e., the cyclin box and the activation domain, are necessary for the overall enhancement of IEG expression. RV-cyclin presents a novel and ancient mechanism of retrovirus-induced oncogenesis. The data reported here are important to both virology and cancer biology. The novel mechanism pinpoints CDK8 in the development of walleye dermal sarcoma and sheds light on CDK8's role in many human cancers. CDK8 controls expression from highly regulated genes, including the interferon-stimulated genes. Its function is likely the target of many viral interferon-resistance mechanisms. CDK8 also controls cellular responses to metabolic stimuli, stress, and hypoxia, in addition to the serum response. The retroviral cyclin (RV-cyclin) represents a highly selected probe of CDK8 function. RV-cyclin does not control CDK8 specificity but instead enhances CDK8's effects on regulated genes, an important distinction for its use to delineate natural CDK8 targets. The outcomes of this research are applicable to investigations of normal and abnormal CDK8 functions. The mechanisms defined here will contribute directly to the dermal sarcoma model in fish and clarify an important path for oncogenesis and innate resistance to viruses.