von Hippel-Lindau protein binds hyperphosphorylated large subunit of RNA polymerase II through a proline hydroxylation motif and targets it for ubiquitination.
The transition from transcription initiation to elongation involves phosphorylation of the large subunit (Rpb1) of RNA polymerase II on the repetitive carboxyl-terminal domain. The elongating hyperphosphorylated Rpb1 is subject to ubiquitination, particularly in response to UV radiation and DNA-damaging agents. By using computer modeling, we identified regions of Rpb1 and the adjacent subunit 6 of RNA polymerase II (Rpb6) that share sequence and structural similarity with the domain of hypoxia-inducible transcription factor 1 alpha (HIF-1 alpha) that binds von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (pVHL). pVHL confers substrate specificity to the E3 ligase complex, which ubiquitinates HIF-alpha and targets it for proteasomal degradation. In agreement with the computational model, we show biochemical evidence that pVHL specifically binds the hyperphosphorylated Rpb1 in a proline-hydroxylation-dependent manner, targeting it for ubiquitination. This interaction is regulated by UV radiation.