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Oncogene. 2000 Mar 2;19(10):1245-56.

Quantitative analysis of residual folding and DNA binding in mutant p53 core domain: definition of mutant states for rescue in cancer therapy.

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Cambridge University Chemical Laboratory and Cambridge Centre for Protein Engineering, Medical Research Council Centre, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, UK.


The tumour suppressor p53 is mutated in half of all human cancers, most frequently with missense substitutions in its core domain. We present a new assessment of the mutation database based on quantitative folding and DNA-binding studies of the isolated core domain. Our data identify five distinct mutant classes that correlate with four well-defined regions of the core domain structure. On extrapolation to 37 degrees C the wild-type protein has a stability of 3.0 kcal/mol. This also emerges as an oncogenic threshold: all beta-sandwich mutants destabilized by this amount (50% denatured) are expected to promote cancer. Other weakly destabilizing mutations are restricted to loop 3 in the DNA-binding region. Drugs that stabilize mutant p53 folding have the potential to reactivate apoptotic signalling pathways in tumour cells either by transactivation-dependent or independent pathways. Using an affinity ligand as a proof of principle we have recovered the thermodynamic stability of the hotspot G245S. With reference states for the five mutant classes as a guide, future therapeutic strategies may similarly stabilize partially structured or binding states of mutant p53 that restore limited p53 pathways to tumour suppression.

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