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EMBO J. Feb 1, 1995; 14(3): 512–519.
PMCID: PMC398109

The dihedral symmetry of the p53 tetramerization domain mandates a conformational switch upon DNA binding.

Abstract

The p53 tumor suppressor forms stable tetramers, whose DNA binding activity is allosterically regulated. The tetramerization domain is contained within the C-terminus (residues 323-355) and its three-dimensional structure exhibits dihedral symmetry, such that a p53 tetramer can be considered a dimer of dimers. Under conditions where monomeric p53 fails to bind DNA, we studied the effects of p53 C-terminal mutations on DNA binding. Residues 322-355 were sufficient to drive DNA binding of p53 as a tetramer. Within this region residues predicted by the three-dimensional structure to stabilize tetramerization, such as Arg337 and Phe341, were critical for DNA binding. Furthermore, substitution of Leu344 caused p53 to dissociate into DNA binding-competent dimers, consistent with the location of this residue at the dimer-dimer interface. The p53 DNA site contains two inverted repeats juxtaposed to a second pair of inverted repeats. Thus, the four repeats exhibit cyclic-translation symmetry and cannot be recognized simultaneously by four dihedrally symmetric p53 DNA binding domains. The discrepancy may be resolved by flexible linkers between the p53 DNA binding and tetramerization domains. When these linkers were deleted p53 exhibited novel DNA binding properties consistent with an inability to recognize four contiguous DNA repeats. Allosteric regulation of p53 DNA binding may involve repositioning the DNA binding domains from a dihedrally symmetric state to a DNA-bound asymmetric state.

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Selected References

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