Journal of Clinical Pathology
Cyclin-dependent kinase 12 (CDK12) belongs to the cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) family of serine/threonine protein kinases that regulate transcriptional and post-transcriptional processes, thereby modulating multiple cellular functions. Early studies characterised CDK12 as a transcriptional CDK that complexes with cyclin K to mediate gene transcription by phosphorylating RNA polymerase II. CDK12 has been demonstrated to specifically upregulate the expression of genes involved in response to DNA damage, stress and heat shock. More recent studies have implicated CDK12 in regulating mRNA splicing, 3' end processing, pre-replication complex assembly and genomic stability during embryonic development. Genomic alterations in CDK12 have been detected in oesophageal, stomach, breast, endometrial, uterine, ovarian, bladder, colorectal and pancreatic cancers, ranging from 5% to 15% of sequenced cases. An increasing number of studies point to CDK12 inhibition as an effective strategy to inhibit tumour growth, and synthetic lethal interactions have been described with MYC, EWS/FLI and PARP/CHK1 inhibition. Herein, we discuss the present literature on CDK12 in cell function and human cancer, highlighting important roles for CDK12 as a clinical biomarker for treatment response and potential as an effective therapeutic target.