MDM2 and Cancer

MDM2 controls the action of p53 tumor suppressor, making it a target for cancer chemotherapy.

Artistic view of the interaction of MDM2 and MDMX (red) with p53 tumor suppressor (yellow). Ubiquitin (green) is added to p53, leading to its destruction by the proteasome (purple).
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P53 tumor suppressor is a guardian in our cells. It watches for damage, infection, and cancer, and if found, it can halt cell growth or trigger cellular self-destruction. P53 tumor suppressor must be closely regulated. This is the job of MDM2 (also known as HDM2 in human cells) and its partner MDMX: they watch over p53 so that these extreme consequences are only triggered when absolutely necessary.

Guarding the Guardian

Most of the time, MDM2 binds to p53. This has multiple effects. First, one domain of MDM2 binds to the transactivation domain of p53, blocking its signaling action. Another part of MDM2 holds a nuclear export signal, which is used to drag p53 out of the nucleus, away from the genes it activates, and into the cytoplasm. Finally, in the cytoplasm, another domain of MDM2 and MDMX act as a ubiquitin ligase, adding ubiquitin to p53 and targeting it for destruction by proteasomes.

Cancer Connection

Normally, enough MDM2 is made to keep p53 in check. But when damage or infection is sensed, MDM2 is inactivated and p53 is allowed to mobilize its resources to control the problem. Most cancer cells have developed ways to circumvent this process. In some cases, p53 itself is corrupted, so the cell has no way of protecting itself. In other cases, cancer cells find ways of creating more MDM2, often by having multiple copies of the gene that encodes it. This extra MDM2 continually blocks the action of p53, allowing the cancer cell to grow unchecked.

At the top, MDM2 (red) is interacting with a small portion of p53 tumor suppressor (yellow). In the middle, MDM2 is interacting with ribosomal protein RPL11 (blue). At the bottom, MDM2 is interacting with one domain from MDMX (magenta), and the complex of ubiquitin (green) with the carrier protein UbcH5B (turquoise).
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MDM2 Domains

MDM2 has several connected domains, each with a specific function. Since the protein is so flexible, structural biologists have studied each of these domains separately. At one end, the N-terminal domain specifically binds to the transactivation domain of p53, blocking its action (PDB entry 1ycr). In the center, a Zn-finger domain binds to ribosomal proteins (PDB entry 4xxb). A C-terminal RING domain performs the reaction that connects ubiquitin to p53 (PDB entry 5mnj).

Exploring the Structure

MDM2 Inhibitors

The interaction between MDM2 and p53 is an attractive target for cancer chemotherapy, because drugs that break this interaction would activate p53, killing the cancer cell. Several effective inhibitors have been discovered that bind at the site on MDM2 that recognizes p53. These include the small molecule Nutlin (PDB entry 1rv1) and SAH-p53-8, a small peptide taken from p53 and stapled in the proper conformation by a linker (PDB entry 3v3b, linker shown in green). To explore the complexes of these inhibitors with MDM2, click on the picture for an interactive JSmol.

Topics for Further Discussion

  1. Structures of several domains of MDMX are also available in the PDB archive. Try searching for “MDMX”.
  2. You can explore the interaction of inhibitors with MDM2 using the Ligand View page. For example, look at the interaction in PDB entry 1rv1.

References

  1. 5mnj: Nomura, K., Klejnot, M., Kowalczyk, D., Hock, A.K., Sibbet, G.J., Vousden, K.H., Huang, D.T. (2017) Structural analysis of MDM2 RING separates degradation from regulation of p53 transcription activity. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 24: 578-587.
  2. Joerger, A.C., Fersht, A.R. (2016) The p53 pathway: origins, inactivation in cancer, and emerging therapeutic approaches. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 85, 375-404.
  3. 4xxb: Zheng, J., Lang, Y., Zhang, Q., Cui, D., Sun, H., Jiang, L., Chen, Z., Zhang, R., Gao, Y., Tian, W., Wu, W., Tang, J., Chen, Z. (2015) Structure of human MDM2 complexed with RPL11 reveals the molecular basis of p53 activation. Genes Dev. 29: 1524-1534.
  4. 3v3b: Baek, S., Kutchukian, P.S., Verdine, G.L., Huber, R., Holak, T.A., Lee, K.W., Popowicz, G.M. (2012) Structure of the stapled p53 peptide bound to Mdm2. J.Am.Chem.Soc. 134: 103-106.
  5. 1rv1: Vassilev, L.T., Vu, B.T., Graves, B., Carvajal, D., Podlaski, F., Filipovic, Z., Kong, N., Kammlott, U., Lukacs, C., Klein, C., Fotouhi, N., Liu, E.A. (2004) In vivo activation of the p53 pathway by small-molecule antagonists of MDM2. Science 303: 844-848.
  6. Iwakuma, T., Lozano, G. (2003) MDM2, an introduction. Mol. Cancer Res. 1, 993-1000.
  7. 1ycr: Kussie, P.H., Gorina, S., Marechal, V., Elenbaas, B., Moreau, J., Levine, A.J., Pavletich, N.P. (1996) Structure of the MDM2 oncoprotein bound to the p53 tumor suppressor transactivation domain. Science 274: 948-953.

June 2019, David Goodsell

doi:10.2210/rcsb_pdb/mom_2019_6
About Molecule of the Month
The RCSB PDB Molecule of the Month by David S. Goodsell (The Scripps Research Institute and the RCSB PDB) presents short accounts on selected molecules from the Protein Data Bank. Each installment includes an introduction to the structure and function of the molecule, a discussion of the relevance of the molecule to human health and welfare, and suggestions for how visitors might view these structures and access further details. More
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