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Genes Dev. 1998 Sep 15;12(18):2831-41.

DNA damage activates p53 through a phosphorylation-acetylation cascade.

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Laboratory of Cell Biology, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Activation of p53-mediated transcription is a critical cellular response to DNA damage. p53 stability and site-specific DNA-binding activity and, therefore, transcriptional activity, are modulated by post-translational modifications including phosphorylation and acetylation. Here we show that p53 is acetylated in vitro at separate sites by two different histone acetyltransferases (HATs), the coactivators p300 and PCAF. p300 acetylates Lys-382 in the carboxy-terminal region of p53, whereas PCAF acetylates Lys-320 in the nuclear localization signal. Acetylations at either site enhance sequence-specific DNA binding. Using a polyclonal antisera specific for p53 that is phosphorylated or acetylated at specific residues, we show that Lys-382 of human p53 becomes acetylated and Ser-33 and Ser-37 become phosphorylated in vivo after exposing cells to UV light or ionizing radiation. In vitro, amino-terminal p53 peptides phosphorylated at Ser-33 and/or at Ser-37 differentially inhibited p53 acetylation by each HAT. These results suggest that DNA damage enhances p53 activity as a transcription factor in part through carboxy-terminal acetylation that, in turn, is directed by amino-terminal phosphorylation.

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