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Mol Cell Biol. 2000 Aug;20(16):5930-8.

Repression of RNA polymerase I transcription by the tumor suppressor p53.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90033, USA.


The tumor suppressor protein p53 is frequently inactivated in tumors. It functions as a transcriptional activator as well as a repressor for a number of viral and cellular promoters transcribed by RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and by RNA Pol III. Moreover, it appears that p53 also suppresses RNA Pol I transcription. In this study, we examined the molecular mechanism of Pol I transcriptional inhibition by p53. We show that wild-type, but not mutant, p53 can repress Pol I transcription from a human rRNA gene promoter in cotransfection assays. Furthermore, we show that recombinant p53 inhibits rRNA transcription in a cell-free transcription system. In agreement with these results, p53-null epithelial cells display an increased Pol I transcriptional activity compared to that of epithelial cells that express p53. However, both cell lines display comparable Pol I factor protein levels. Our biochemical analysis shows that p53 prevents the interaction between SL1 and UBF. Protein-protein interaction assays indicate that p53 binds to SL1, and this interaction is mostly mediated by direct contacts with TATA-binding protein and TAF(I)110. Moreover, template commitment assays show that while the formation of a UBF-SL1 complex can partially relieve the inhibition of transcription, only the assembly of a UBF-SL1-Pol I initiation complex on the rDNA promoter confers substantial protection against p53 inhibition. In summary, our results suggest that p53 represses RNA Pol I transcription by directly interfering with the assembly of a productive transcriptional machinery on the rRNA promoter.

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