Yadahalli, S., Neira, J.L., Johnson, C.M. et al. Kinetic and thermodynamic effects of phosphorylation on p53 binding to MDM2. Sci Rep 9, 693 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-36589-5
p53 is frequently mutated in human cancers. Its levels are tightly regulated by the E3 ubiquitin ligase MDM2. The complex between MDM2 and p53 is largely formed by the interaction between the N-terminal domain of MDM2 and the N-terminal transactivation (TA) domain of p53 (residues 15–29). We investigated the kinetic and thermodynamic basis of the MDM2/p53 interaction by using wild-type and mutant variants of the TA domain. We focus on the effects of phosphorylation at positions Thr18 and Ser20 including their substitution with phosphomimetics. Conformational propensities of the isolated peptides were investigated using in silico methods and experimentally by circular dichroism and 1H-NMR in aqueous solution. Both experimental and computational analyses indicate that the p53 peptides are mainly disordered in aqueous solution, with evidence of nascent helix around the Ser20-Leu25 region. Both phosphorylation and the phosphomimetics at Thr18 result in a decrease in the binding affinity by ten- to twenty-fold when compared to the wild-type. Phosphorylation and phosphomimetics at Ser20 result in a smaller decrease in the affinity. Mutation of Lys24 and Leu25 also disrupts the interaction. Our results may be useful for further development of peptide-based drugs targeting the MDM2/p53 interaction.