Human replication protein A (RP-A) (also known as human single-stranded DNA binding protein, or HSSB) is a multisubunit complex involved in both DNA replication and repair. Potentially important to both these functions, it is also capable of complex formation with the tumor suppressor protein p53. Here we show that although p53 is unable to prevent RP-A from associating with a range of single-stranded DNAs in solution, RP-A is able to strongly inhibit p53 from functioning as a sequence-specific DNA binding protein when the two proteins are complexed. This inhibition, in turn, can be regulated by the presence of various lengths of single-stranded DNAs, as RP-A, when bound to these single-stranded DNAs, is unable to interact with p53. Interestingly, the lengths of single-stranded DNA capable of relieving complex formation between the two proteins represent forms that might be introduced through repair and replicative events. Increasing p53 concentrations can also overcome the inhibition by steady-state levels of RP-A, potentially mimicking cellular points of balance. Finally, it has been shown previously that p53 can itself be stimulated for site-specific DNA binding when complexed through the C terminus with short single strands of DNA, and here we show that p53 stays bound to these short strands even after binding a physiologically relevant site. These results identify a potential dual role for single-stranded DNA in the regulation of DNA binding by p53 and give insights into the p53 response to DNA damage
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