MYC enhances productive transcription by defining the protein composition of Pol II
MYC directly binds SPT5 and hands it over to Pol II in a CDK7-dependent manner
Transfer of SPT5 increases speed and processivity of Pol II
MYC’s effects on Pol II function shape its tumor-specific gene expression profile
The MYC oncoprotein binds to promoter-proximal regions of virtually all transcribed genes and enhances RNA polymerase II (Pol II) function, but its precise mode of action is poorly understood. Using mass spectrometry of both MYC and Pol II complexes, we show here that MYC controls the assembly of Pol II with a small set of transcription elongation factors that includes SPT5, a subunit of the elongation factor DSIF. MYC directly binds SPT5, recruits SPT5 to promoters, and enables the CDK7-dependent transfer of SPT5 onto Pol II. Consistent with known functions of SPT5, MYC is required for fast and processive transcription elongation. Intriguingly, the high levels of MYC that are expressed in tumors sequester SPT5 into non-functional complexes, thereby decreasing the expression of growth-suppressive genes. Altogether, these results argue that MYC controls the productive assembly of processive Pol II elongation complexes and provide insight into how oncogenic levels of MYC permit uncontrolled cellular growth.