The Tat protein of HIV-1 plays an essential role in HIV gene expression by promoting efficient elongation of viral transcripts. Posttranslational modifications of Tat fine-tune interactions of Tat with cellular cofactors and TAR RNA, a stem-loop structure at the 5' ends of viral transcripts. Here, we identify the lysine methyltransferase Set7/9 (KMT7) as a coactivator of HIV transcription. Set7/9-KMT7 associates with the HIV promoter in vivo and monomethylates lysine 51, a highly conserved residue located in the RNA-binding domain of Tat. Knockdown of Set7/9-KMT7 suppresses Tat transactivation of the HIV promoter, but does not affect the transcriptional activity of methylation-deficient Tat (K51A). Set7/9-KMT7 binds TAR RNA by itself and in complex with Tat and the positive transcription elongation factor P-TEFb. Our findings uncover a positive role for Set7/9-KMT7 and Tat methylation during early steps of the Tat transactivation cycle.
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