RelA Ser276 phosphorylation is required for activation of a subset of NF-κB-dependent genes by recruiting cyclin-dependent kinase 9/cyclin t1 complexes

David E. Nowak, Bing Tian, Mohammad Jamaluddin, Istvan Boldogh, Leoncio A. Vergara, Sanjeev Choudhary, Allan Brasier

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152 Scopus citations


NF-κB plays a central role in cytokine-inducible inflammatory gene expression. Previously we empirically determined the identity of 92 members of the genetic network under direct NF-κB/RelA control that show marked heterogeneity in magnitude of transcriptional induction and kinetics of peak activation. To investigate this network further, we have applied a recently developed two-step chromatin immunoprecipitation assay that accurately reflects association and disassociation of RelA binding to its chromatin targets. Although inducible RelA binding occurs with similar kinetics on all NF-κB-dependent genes, serine 276 (Ser276)-phosphorylated RelA binding is seen primarily on a subset of genes that are rapidly induced by tumor necrosis factor (TNF), including Gro-β, interleukin-8 (IL-8), and IκBα. Previous work has shown that TNF-inducible RelA Ser 276 phosphorylation is controlled by a reactive oxygen species (ROS)-protein kinase A signaling pathway. To further understand the role of phospho-Ser276 RelA in target gene expression, we inhibited its formation by ROS scavengers and antioxidants, treatments that disrupt phospho-Ser276 formation but not the translocation and DNA binding of nonphosphorylated RelA. Here we find that phospho-Ser276 RelA is required only for activation of IL-8 and Gro-β, with IκBα being unaffected. These data were confirmed in experiments using RelA-/- murine embryonic fibroblasts reconstituted with a RelA Ser276 Ala mutation. In addition, we observe that phospho-Ser276 RelA binds the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb), a complex containing the cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK-9) and cyclin T1 subunits. Inhibition of P-TEFb activity by short interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated knockdown shows that the phospho-Ser276 RelA-P-TEFb complex is required for IL-8 and Gro-β gene activation but not for IκBα gene activation. These studies indicate that TNF induces target gene expression by heterogeneous mechanisms. One is mediated by phospho-Ser276 RelA formation and chromatin targeting of P-TEFb controlling polymerase II (Pol II) recruitment and carboxy-terminal domain phosphorylation on the IL-8 and Gro-β genes. The second involves a phospho-Ser276 RelA-independent activation of genes preloaded with Pol II, exemplified by the IκBα gene. Together, these data suggest that the binding kinetics, selection of genomic targets, and mechanisms of promoter induction by RelA are controlled by a phosphorylation code influencing its interactions with coactivators and transcriptional elongation factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3623-3638
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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