The levels of the tumor suppressor protein p53 are generally quite low in normal cells, due in part to its rapid turnover. Previous studies have implicated ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis in the turnover of wild-type p53 but have not established whether or not p53 is itself a substrate of the ubiquitin system. In this study, inhibitors of the 26S proteasome have been used to further explore the role of ubiquitin proteolysis in regulating p53 turnover. Increased levels of the tumor suppressor protein p53 were observed in normal cells, as well as in cells expressing the human papillomavirus 16 E6 oncoprotein, on exposure of the cells to proteasome inhibitors. Pulse-chase experiments indicated that the increased p53 levels resulted from stabilization of the protein. Furthermore, ubiquitin-p53 conjugates were detected in untreated as well as γ-irradiated cells, indicating that ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis plays a role in the normal turnover of p53. Increased levels of the cyclin:cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21, a downstream effector of p53 function, were also observed in proteasome inhibitor-treated cells, and this increase was due in part to an increase in p21 mRNA.

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This work was supported by NIH Grants P01-CA-50661-07 and RO1-CA64888-1 (P. M. H.).

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