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Control of M-G1 phase-specific expression in fission yeast

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  • Qh301 Biology
  • Qd Chemistry
  • Qh426 Genetics
  • Biology


The mitotic cell cycle underlies propagation of eukaryotic cells, continually duplicating and dividing. The past few years have seen major advances in understanding of the regulatory mechanisms that impose on the cell cycle to tightly co-ordinate progression through its individual phases, safeguarding the timing and integrity of its hallmark events, DNA synthesis and mitosis. Transcription is prominent among these processes, manifesting its importance for cell cycle controls by the large number of eukaryotic genes that are expressed at specific cell cycle times. Certain genes are cell cycle regulated in a number of organisms, suggesting that their phase-specific transcription is important for all eukaryotic cells. The budding and fission yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe, have been used extensively as model organisms for the study of the eukaryotic cell cycle and cell cycle-regulated transcription, because the cell cycle machinery is conserved among eukaryotes and they are experimentally tractable. Recent microarray analyses have shown that cell cycle-specific expression is a frequent theme in the two yeasts, identifying consecutive, inter-dependent, waves of transcriptional activity, coinciding with the four main cell cycle transitions; G1-S, S, G2-M and M-G1 phases. Each phase-specific transcriptional wave corresponds to at least one group of co-regulated genes, sharing common cis- and trans- acting elements. The work presented in this thesis delves into the regulatory network that drives phase-specific gene expression during late mitosis-early G1 phase in fission yeast. During this late cell cycle stage, fission yeast and, indeed, every eukaryotic cell, undergo major changes; each completes mitosis and cytokinesis, partitioning its duplicated genetic and cytoplasmic material into two progeny cells, which then themselves prepare for a new round of mitotic cell division. Consistent with their periodic pattern of expression, most of the genes transcribed during the M-G1 interval in S. pombe encode proteins that execute important functions during late mitosis and cytokinesis. A DNA sequence promoter motif, the PCB (Pombe cell cycle box), has been identified in fission yeast that confers M-G1 specific transcription, and is bound by the PBF (PCB binding factor) transcription factor complex. PCB promoter motifs are present in several M-G1 transcribed genes, including cdc15+, spo12+, sid2+, fin1+, slp1+, ace2+, mid1+/dmf1+ and plo1+, the latter encoding a Polo-like kinase that also regulates M-G1 gene expression and influences the PCB-dependent binding properties of PBF. Three transcription factors, Sep1p and Fkh2p, both forkhead-like transcription factors, and Mbx1p, a MADS-box protein, have been implicated in M-G1 specific gene expression and are thought to be components of PBF. Consistent with Fkh2p and Sep1p regulating M-G1 specific transcription, forkhead-related sequences are present in the genes’ promoters. Notably, fkh2+ contains both PCB and forkhead promoter sequences and is transcribed during the M-G1 interval, implying that Fkh2p and Plo1p regulate gene transcription during late mitosis and ensuing passage through cytokinesis via feedback loops. This study provides further evidence about transcriptional regulation late in the fission yeast cell cycle, revealing that the PCB sequence is crucial for M-G1 specific transcription, with forkhead-associated DNA motifs playing a parallel but smaller regulatory role. Consistent with this hypothesis, work here and elsewhere shows that both Fkh2p and Sep1p control phase-specific expression of their co-regulated genes through the PCB and forkhead sequences. Notably, data in this thesis reveal that these two forkhead transcription factors associate with each other in vitro and in vivo and bind in vivo to the PCB promoter regions of M-G1 transcribed genes, including cdc15+ and plo1+, in a cell cycle specific manner, consistent with Fkh2p repressing and Sep1p activating transcription. Furthermore, Fkh2p contacts its own promoter, suggesting that it regulates its own expression via a negative feedback mechanism. The Plo1p kinase is shown here to bind in vivo to Mbx1p throughout the cell cycle and in a manner that requires both its kinase and polo-box domains. In agreement with this observation, Plo1p can phosphorylate in vitro Mbx1p, itself known to become phosphorylated during late mitosis. This is the first time that a Polo-like kinase has been shown to bind and phosphorylate a MADS-box protein in any organism. Moreover, in concert with Plo1p binding and phosphorylating Mbx1p, ChIP assays here reveal that this kinase interacts in vivo with the PCB promoter DNA of M-G1 expressed genes, including cdc15+ and fkh2+, in a cell cycle-dependent manner with a timing that coincides with low levels of expression, but follows promoter binding by Fkh2p. Given that Plo1p has previously been shown to positively influence M-G1 dependent transcription, its cell cycle pattern of promoter contact suggests that this Polo-like kinase functions at the genes’ promoters, most-likely via binding and phosphorylation of Mbx1p, to re-stimulate transcription, following repression by Fkh2p. In parallel, these findings suggest that Plo1p regulates its own expression via a positive feedback loop. Overall, the work presented in this thesis unravels crucial regulatory aspects of the transcriptional network that drives M-G1 specific transcription in S. pombe: it suggests an important role for the PCB promoter motif in transcriptional regulation; it proposes that Fkh2p acts as a repressor while Sep1p as an activator of late mitotic transcription; it reveals and proposes novel functions for Plo1p, a conserved Polo-like kinase family member, involving its association with Mbx1p, a MADS box protein, and its cell cycle specific recruitment to PCB promoters of M-G1 transcribed genes. As transcriptional systems, encompassing homologues of most of the components of this S. pombe M-G1 specific transcriptional network operate both in S. cerevisiae and humans, this demonstrates their importance for mitotic cell cycle progression. Thus this work potentially offers new insights into M-G1 specific gene expression in all eukaryotes.

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