Deciphering the role of the signal- and Sty1 kinase-dependent phosphorylation of the stress-responsive transcription factor Atf1 on gene activation.J Biol Chem. 2017 08 18; 292(33):13635-13644.JB
Adaptation to stress triggers the most dramatic shift in gene expression in fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe), and this response is driven by signaling via the MAPK Sty1. Upon activation, Sty1 accumulates in the nucleus and stimulates expression of hundreds of genes via the nuclear transcription factor Atf1, including expression of atf1 itself. However, the role of stress-induced, Sty1-mediated Atf1 phosphorylation in transcriptional activation is unclear. To this end, we expressed Atf1 phosphorylation mutants from a constitutive promoter to uncouple Atf1 activity from endogenous, stress-activated Atf1 expression. We found that cells expressing a nonphosphorylatable Atf1 variant are sensitive to oxidative stress because of impaired transcription of a subset of stress genes whose expression is also controlled by another transcription factor, Pap1. Furthermore, cells expressing a phospho-mimicking Atf1 mutant display enhanced stress resistance, and although expression of the Pap1-dependent genes still relied on stress induction, another subset of stress-responsive genes was constitutively expressed in these cells. We also observed that, in cells expressing the phospho-mimicking Atf1 mutant, the presence of Sty1 was completely dispensable, with all stress defects of Sty1-deficient cells being suppressed by expression of the Atf1 mutant. We further demonstrated that Sty1-mediated Atf1 phosphorylation does not stimulate binding of Atf1 to DNA but, rather, establishes a platform of interactions with the basal transcriptional machinery to facilitate transcription initiation. In summary, our results provide evidence that Atf1 phosphorylation by the MAPK Sty1 is required for oxidative stress responses in fission yeast cells by promoting transcription initiation.