Nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of p53 is essential for MDM2-mediated cytoplasmic degradation but not ubiquitination

Mol Cell Biol. 2003 Sep;23(18):6396-405. doi: 10.1128/MCB.23.18.6396-6405.2003.


As a shuttling protein, p53 is constantly transported through the nuclear pore complex. p53 nucleocytoplasmic transport is carried out by a bipartite nuclear localization signal (NLS) located at its C-terminal domain and two nuclear export signals (NES) located in its N- and C-terminal regions, respectively. The role of nucleocytoplasmic shuttling in p53 ubiquitination and degradation has been a subject of debate. Here we show that the two basic amino acid groups in the p53 bipartite NLS function collaboratively to import p53. Mutations disrupting individual amino acids in the NLS, although causing accumulation of p53 in the cytoplasm to various degrees, reduce but do not eliminate the NLS activity, and these mutants remain sensitive to MDM2 degradation. However, disrupting both parts of the bipartite NLS completely blocks p53 from entering the nucleus and causes p53 to become resistant to MDM2-mediated degradation. Similarly, mutations disrupting four conserved hydrophobic amino acids in the p53 C-terminal NES block p53 export and prohibit it from MDM2 degradation. We also show that colocalization of a nonshuttling p53 with MDM2 either in the nucleus or in the cytoplasm is sufficient for MDM2-induced p53 polyubiquitination but not degradation. Our data provide new insight into the mechanism and regulation of p53 nucleocytoplasmic shuttling and degradation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Mutation
  • Nuclear Localization Signals
  • Nuclear Proteins*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids
  • Nuclear Localization Signals
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Ubiquitin
  • MDM2 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2