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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Nov 23;96(24):13777-82.

Phosphorylation of Ser-20 mediates stabilization of human p53 in response to DNA damage.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Stabilization of p53 in response to DNA damage is caused by its dissociation from Mdm2, a protein that targets p53 for degradation in the proteasome. Dissociation of p53 from Mdm2 could be caused by DNA damage-induced p53 posttranslational modifications. The ATM and ATR kinases, whose activation in response to ionizing radiation (IR) and UV light, respectively, is required for p53 stabilization, directly phosphorylate p53 on Ser-15. However, phosphorylation of Ser-15 is critical for the apoptotic activity of p53 and not for p53 stabilization. Thus, whether any p53 modifications, and which, underlie disruption of the p53-Mdm2 complex after DNA damage remains to be determined. We analyzed the IR- and UV light-induced stabilization of p53 proteins with substitutions of Ser known to be posttranslationally modified after DNA damage. Substitution of Ser-20 was sufficient to abrogate p53 stabilization in response to both IR and UV light. Furthermore, both IR and UV light induced phosphorylation of p53 on Ser-20, which involved the majority of nuclear p53 protein and weakened the interaction of p53 with Mdm2 in vitro. ATM and ATR cannot phosphorylate p53 on Ser-20. We therefore propose that ATM and ATR activate an, as yet unidentified, kinase that stabilizes p53 by phosphorylating it on Ser-20.

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