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The Mediator Complex in Genomic and Non-Genomic Signaling in Cancer.


Mediator is a conserved, multi-subunit macromolecular machine divided structurally into head, middle, and tail modules, along with a transiently associating kinase module. Mediator functions as an integrator of transcriptional regulatory activity by interacting with DNA-bound transcription factors and with RNA polymerase II (Pol II) to both activate and repress gene expression. Mediator has been shown to affect multiple steps in transcription, including chromatin looping between enhancers and promoters, pre-initiation complex formation, transcriptional elongation, and mRNA splicing. Individual Mediator subunits participate in regulation of gene expression by the estrogen and androgen receptors and are altered in a number of endocrine cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. In addition to its role in genomic signaling, MED12 has been implicated in non-genomic signaling by interacting with and activating TGF-beta receptor 2 in the cytoplasm. Recent structural studies have revealed extensive inter-domain interactions and complex architecture of the Mediator-Pol II complex, suggesting that Mediator is capable of reorganizing its conformation and composition to fit cellular needs. We propose that alterations in Mediator subunit expression that occur in various cancers could impact the organization and function of Mediator, resulting in changes in gene expression that promote malignancy. A better understanding of the role of Mediator in cancer could reveal new approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of Mediator-dependent endocrine cancers, especially in settings of therapy resistance.