Protein phosphatases in the RNAPII transcription cycle: Erasers, sculptors, gatekeepers, and potential drug targets

Giacomo Cossa, Pabitra K. Parua, Martin Eilers, Robert P. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The transcription cycle of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) is governed at multiple points by opposing actions of cyclindependent kinases (CDKs) and protein phosphatases, in a process with similarities to the cell division cycle. While important roles of the kinases have been established, phosphatases have emerged more slowly as key players in transcription, and large gaps remain in understanding of their precise functions and targets. Much of the earlier work focused on the roles and regulation of sui generis and often atypical phosphatases-FCP1, Rtr1/RPAP2, and SSU72-with seemingly dedicated functions in RNAPII transcription. Decisive roles in the transcription cycle have now been uncovered for members of the major phosphoprotein phosphatase (PPP) family, including PP1, PP2A, and PP4-Abundant enzymes with pleiotropic roles in cellular signaling pathways. These phosphatases appear to act principally at the transitions between transcription cycle phases, ensuring fine control of elongation and termination. Much is still unknown, however, about the division of labor among the PPP family members, and their possible regulation by or of the transcriptional kinases. CDKs active in transcription have recently drawn attention as potential therapeutic targets in cancer and other diseases, raising the prospect that the phosphatases might also present opportunities for new drug development. Here we review the current knowledge and outstanding questions about phosphatases in the context of the RNAPII transcription cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-676
Number of pages19
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - May 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • RNA polymerase II (RNAPII)
  • RNAPII C-Terminal domain (CTD)
  • cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs)
  • phosphoprotein phosphatases
  • promoter-proximal pausing
  • protein phosphatase 1 (PP1)
  • protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A)
  • protein phosphatase 4 (PP4)
  • protein phosphorylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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