Ubiquitin, and components of the ubiquitin-proteasome system, feature extensively in the regulation of gene transcription. Although there are many examples of how ubiquitin controls the activity of transcriptional regulators and coregulators, there are few examples of core components of the transcriptional machinery that are directly controlled by ubiquitin-dependent processes. The budding yeast protein Asr1 is the prototypical member of the RPC (RING, PHD, CBD) family of ubiquitin-ligases, characterized by the presence of amino-terminal RING (really interesting new gene) and PHD (plant homeo domain) fingers and a carboxyl-terminal domain that directly binds the largest subunit of RNA polymerase II (pol II), Rpb1, in response to phosphorylation events tied to the initiation of transcription. Asr1-mediated oligo-ubiquitylation of pol II leads to ejection of two core subunits of the enzyme and is associated with inhibition of polymerase function. Here, we present evidence that Asr1-mediated ubiquitylation of pol II is required for silencing of subtelomeric gene transcription. We show that Asr1 associates with telomere-proximal chromatin and that disruption of the ubiquitin-ligase activity of Asr1--or mutation of ubiquitylation sites within Rpb1--induces transcription of silenced gene sequences. In addition, we report that Asr1 associates with the Ubp3 deubiquitylase and that Asr1 and Ubp3 play antagonistic roles in setting transcription levels from silenced genes. We suggest that control of pol II by nonproteolytic ubiquitylation provides a mechanism to enforce silencing by transient and reversible inhibition of pol II activity at subtelomeric chromatin.
Keywords: chromatin; gene silencing; transcription; ubiquitin.