Early work on the control of transcription of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) laid the foundation for our current knowledge of how RNA Polymerase II is released from promoter-proximal pausing sites and transcription elongation is enhanced. The viral Tat activator recruits Positive Transcription Elongation Factor b (P-TEFb) and Super Elongation Complex (SEC) that jointly drive transcription elongation. While substantial progress in understanding the role of SEC in HIV gene transcription elongation has been obtained, defining of the mechanisms that govern SEC functions is still limited, and the role of SEC in controlling HIV transcription in the absence of Tat is less clear. Here we revisit the contribution of SEC in early steps of HIV gene transcription. In the absence of Tat, the AF4/FMR2 Family member 4 (AFF4) of SEC efficiently activates HIV transcription, while gene activation by its homolog AFF1 is substantially lower. Differential recruitment to the HIV promoter and association with Human Polymerase-Associated Factor complex (PAFc) play key role in this functional distinction between AFF4 and AFF1. Moreover, while depletion of cyclin T1 expression has subtle effects on HIV gene transcription in the absence of Tat, knockout (KO) of AFF1, AFF4, or both proteins slightly repress this early step of viral transcription. Upon Tat expression, HIV transcription reaches optimal levels despite KO of AFF1 or AFF4 expression. However, double AFF1/AFF4 KO completely diminishes Tat trans-activation. Significantly, our results show that P-TEFb phosphorylates AFF4 and modulates SEC assembly, AFF1/4 dimerization and recruitment to the viral promoter. We conclude that SEC promotes both early steps of HIV transcription in the absence of Tat, as well as elongation of transcription, when Tat is expressed. Significantly, SEC functions are modulated by P-TEFb.
Keywords: RNA polymerase II; Tat trans-activator; eukaryotic transcription; human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb); super elongation complex (SEC); transcription elongation.