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Genes Dev. 1997 Mar 1;11(5):558-70.

Identification of redox/repair protein Ref-1 as a potent activator of p53.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA.


p53 can be isolated from cells in a form that is inert for binding to DNA but that can be stimulated dramatically by phosphorylation, antibody binding, or short single strands of DNA. This suggests that upon genotoxic stress, cells can convert latent p53 to one that is active for DNA binding. Surprisingly, we observed that latent p53 is as effective in activating transcription in vitro as is active p53. We found that HeLa nuclear extracts can stimulate DNA binding by latent p53 and have purified from them a p53-stimulating protein that we have determined to be the product of the Ref-1 gene. Interestingly, Ref-1 is a dual function protein that can both regulate the redox state of a number of proteins and function as a DNA repair (A/P) endonuclease. We observed that oxidized forms of full-length and carboxy-terminally truncated p53 (p53 delta30), which are inactive for DNA binding, are both stimulated by the Ref-1 protein. However, in the presence of reducing agent, Ref-1 is an extremely potent stimulator of full-length p53 but not p53 delta30. These and additional data indicate that Ref-1 protein stimulates p53 by both redox-dependent and -independent means and imply a key role for it in p53 regulation. Importantly, we have also determined that Ref-1 can stimulate p53 transactivation in vivo. This is the first example of a noncovalent protein modifier of p53 function identified in cells.

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