J. Biol. Chem.
The p53 protein is a transcription factor that acts as the major tumor suppressor in mammals. The core DNA-binding domain is mutated in about 50%, of all human tumors. The crystal structure of the core domain in complex with DNA illustrated how a single core domain specifically interacts with its DNA consensus site and how it is inactivated by mutation. However, no structural information for the tetrameric full-length p53- DNA complex is available. Here, we present novel experimental insight into the dimerization of two p53 core domains upon cooperative binding to consensus DNA in solution obtained by NMR. The NMR data show that the p53 core domain itself does not appear to undergo major conformational changes upon addition of DNA and elucidate the dimerization interface between two DNA- bound core domains, which includes the short HI helix. A NMR- based model for the dimeric p53 core-DNA complex incorporates these data and allows the conclusion that the dimerization interface also forms the actual interface in the tetrameric p53-DNA complex. The significance of this interface is further corroborated by the finding that hot spot mutations map to the HI helix, and by the binding of the putative p53 inhibitor 53BP2 to this region via one of its ankyrin repeats. Based on symmetry considerations it is proposed that tetrameric p53 might link non-contigous DNA consensus sites in a sandwich-like manner generating DNA loops as observed for transcriptionally active p53 complexes