Genotoxic stress activation of the tumor suppressor transcription factor p53 involves post-translational C-terminal modifications that increase both protein stability and DNA binding activity. We compared the requirement for p53 protein activation of p53 target sequences in two major p53-regulated genes, p21/WAF1 (encoding a cell cycle inhibitory protein) and Mdm2 (encoding a ubiquitin ligase that targets p53 for proteolytic degradation). The p53 binding site in the proximal p21/WAF1 promoter contains a single p53 binding consensus sequence, while the p53 binding site in the Mdm2 promoter contains two consensus sequences linked by a 17 bp spacer. Binding of recombinant p53 protein to the p21/WAF1 binding site required monoclonal antibody PAb421, which can mimic activating phosphorylation and/or acetylation events at the C-terminus. In contrast, recombinant p53 bound strongly to the Mdm2 binding site in the absence of PAb421 antibody. Separate binding to each consensus sequence of the Mdm2 binding site still required PAb421, indicating that p53 binding was not simply due to greater affinity to the Mdm2 consensus sequences. Linking two p21/WAF1 binding sites with the 17 bp spacer region from the Mdm2 gene eliminated the PAb421 requirement for p53 binding to the p21/WAF1 site. These results suggest a mechanism for regulation of Mdm2 gene transcription that differs from that other p53-induced genes by its lack of a requirement for C-terminal activation of p53 protein. A steady induction of Mdm2 protein would maintain p53 protein at low levels until post-translational modifications following DNA damage increased p53 activity towards other genes, mediating p53 growth inhibitory and apoptotic activities.
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