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Biochemistry. 2001 Apr 3;40(13):4053-66.

Site-specific phosphorylation of human p53 protein determined by mass spectrometry.

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Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis and Laboratory of Structural Biology, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.


Human recombinant p53 (r-p53) protein was studied by mass spectrometry (MS) to determine site-specific posttranslational differences between basal and hyperphosphorylated r-p53. Wild-type p53 was basally expressed after baculovirus infection while a parallel preparation was treated with the phosphatase inhibitor okadaic acid during the terminal stages of expression to create a hyperphosphorylated form of p53 known for its higher DNA binding and transcriptional activation. After immunoaffinity and HPLC purification, MALDI/MS measured a higher molecular mass for r-p53 from okadaic acid treatment relative to control, suggesting a higher phosphorylation state. This was supported by an acidic shift of r-p53 isoforms separated by gel isoelectric focusing. Employing a variety of mass spectrometric analyses combined with separation and affinity techniques, six specific phosphorylation sites of p53 were identified. The MS data indicated that hyperphosphorylated p53 showed a higher degree of phosphorylation than basal p53 at specific amino- and carboxy-terminal sites. In particular, ESI-MS demonstrated that Ser(315) was entirely phosphorylated after okadaic acid treatment, as confirmed biochemically by CDK2 kinase assay and by isoelectric focusing. In summary, MS analysis uniquely revealed increased, site-specific phosphorylations on p53 after phosphatase inhibition, particularly at Ser(315), which may be critical molecular events in defining p53 activity.

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