Ubiquitination of p21Cip1/WAF1 by SCFSkp2: substrate requirement and ubiquitination site selection

Biochemistry. 2005 Nov 8;44(44):14553-64. doi: 10.1021/bi051071j.


Multiple proteolytic pathways are involved in the degradation of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21(Cip1/WAF1). Timed destruction of p21(Cip1/WAF1) plays a critical role in cell-cycle progression and cellular response to DNA damage. The SCF(Skp2) complex (consisting of Rbx1, Cul1, Skp1, and Skp2) is one of the E3 ubiquitin ligases involved in ubiquitination of p21(Cip1/WAF1). Little is known about how SCF(Skp2) recruits its substrates and selects particular acceptor lysine residues for ubiquitination. In this study, we investigated the requirements for SCF(Skp2) recognition of p21(Cip1/WAF1) and lysine residues that are ubiquitinated in vitro and inside cells. We demonstrate that ubiquitination of p21(Cip1/WAF1) requires a functional interaction between p21(Cip1/WAF1) and the cyclin E-Cdk2 complex. Mutation of both the cyclin E recruitment motif (RXL) and the Cdk2-binding motif (FNF) at the N terminus of p21(Cip1/WAF1) abolishes its ubiquitination by SCF(Skp2), while mutation of either motif alone has minimal effects, suggesting either contact is sufficient for substrate recruitment. Thus, SCF(Skp2) appears to recognize a trimeric complex consisting of cyclin E-Cdk2-p21(Cip1/WAF1). Furthermore, we show that p21(Cip1/WAF1) can be ubiquitinated at four distinct lysine residues located in the carboxyl-terminal region but not two other lysine residues in the N-terminal region. Any one of these four lysine residues can be targeted for ubiquitination in the absence of the others in vitro, and three of these four lysine residues are also ubiquitinated in vivo, suggesting that there is limited specificity in the selection of ubiquitination sites. Interestingly, mutation of the carboxyl-terminal proline to lysine enables ubiquitin conjugation at the carboxyl terminus of the substrate both in vitro and in vivo. Thus, our results highlight a unique property of the ubiquitination enzymatic reaction in that substrate ubiquitination site selection can be remarkably diverse and occur in distinct spatial areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclin E / genetics
  • Cyclin E / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 2 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 2 / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / chemistry
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Binding
  • S-Phase Kinase-Associated Proteins / genetics
  • S-Phase Kinase-Associated Proteins / metabolism*
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Cyclin E
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • S-Phase Kinase-Associated Proteins
  • Ubiquitin
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 2
  • Lysine