Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Susanna F. Greer

Second Advisor

Casonya Johnson

Third Advisor

Zhi-Ren Liu


The class II Transactivator (CIITA) is the master regulator for Major Histocompatibility Class II (MHC II) molecules. CIITA is dynamically regulated by a series of Posttranslational Modifications (PTMs). CIITA is responsible for initiating transcription of MHC II genes, thus allowing peptides derived from extracellular antigens to be presented to CD4+ T cells. CIITA’s PTMs are necessary for regulation of CIITA’s location, activity, and stability. Our work identifies the kinase complex ERK1/2 as being responsible for phosphorylating the previously identified regulatory site, serine (S) 280 on CIITA. Phosphorylation by ERK1/2 of CIITA S280 leads to increased levels of CIITA mono-ubiquitination and overall increases in MHC II activity. We further identify a novel ubiquitin modification on CIITA, lysine (K) 63 linked ubiquitination poly ubiquitination. Our data shows novel crosstalk between K63 ubiquitination and ERK1/2 phosphorylation. K63 ubiquitinated CIITA is concentrated to the cytoplasm, and upon phosphorylation by ERK1/2, CIITA translocates to the nucleus, thus demonstrating that CIITA’s location and activity is regulated through PTM crosstalk. While ubiquitination has been shown to be a critical PTM in the regulation of CIITA, the enzyme(s) mediating this important modification remained to be elucidated. Previous reports implicating the histone acetyltransferase (HAT), pCAF as an ubiquitin E3 ligase were intriguing, as pCAF is also known to participate in the acetylation of both histones at the MHC II promoter and in acetylation of CIITA. We now identify novel roles for pCAF in the regulation of CIITA. We show pCAF acts as an E3 ligase, mediating mono, K63, and K48 linked ubiquitination of CIITA. We therefore demonstrate an additional substrate for the “dual acting” enzyme, pCAF. In sum, our observations identify enzymes involved in both the phosphorylation and ubiquitination of key residues of CIITA, which ultimately regulate CIITA activity. Together our observations contribute to knowledge of CIITA’s growing network of PTMs and their role in regulating the adaptive immune response, and will allow for development of novel therapies to target dysregulated CIITA activity during adaptive immune responses.