CDK8 is a stimulus-specific positive coregulator of p53 target genes

Mol Cell. 2007 Jul 6;27(1):121-33. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2007.05.026.


The p53 transcriptional network orchestrates alternative stress responses such as cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis. Here we investigate the mechanism of differential expression of p21, a key mediator of p53-dependent cell-cycle arrest. We demonstrate that the transcriptional activity of the p21 promoter varies greatly in response to distinct p53-activating stimuli. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis of the p21 locus indicates that histone acetyltransferases, general transcription factors, and Mediator subunits are assembled into alternative transcriptional complexes of different activity. Interestingly, core Mediator subunits MED1 and MED17 are recruited to the p21 locus regardless of the p53-activating stimuli utilized. In contrast, three subunits of the CDK module of Mediator (CDK8, MED12, and cyclin C) are exclusively recruited during conditions of strong p21 transcriptional activation. Furthermore, increased binding of CDK8 to p53 target genes correlates positively with transcriptional strength. RNAi experiments demonstrate that CDK8 functions as a coactivator within the p53 transcriptional program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation / drug effects
  • Acetylation / radiation effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 8
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / metabolism*
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Enzyme Activation / radiation effects
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / radiation effects
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Protein Binding / radiation effects
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • Protein Transport / radiation effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2 / metabolism
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic / radiation effects
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • Chromatin
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Histones
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Doxorubicin
  • MDM2 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2
  • CDK8 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 8
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases
  • RNA Polymerase II
  • Fluorouracil