Study of the molecular details of p53 redox-regulation using Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry
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Reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and superoxide (O2 • −) have been shown to serve as messengers in biological signal transduction, and many prokaryotic and eukaryotic proteins are now known to have their function controlled via ROS-mediated oxidation reactions occurring on critical cysteine residues. The tumour-suppressor protein p53 is involved in the regulation of a diverse range of cellular processes including apoptosis, differentiation, senescence, DNArepair, cell-cycle arrest, autophagy, glycolysis and oxidative stress. However, little is understood about the specific molecular mechanisms that allow p53 to discriminate between these various different functions. p53 is a multiple cysteine-containing protein and there is mounting evidence to suggest that redox-modification of p53 Cys residues participate in control of its biological activity. Furthermore, p53 activity has been linked to intracellular ROS levels. Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) offers superior mass resolving power and mass measurement accuracy, which is beneficial for the study of intact proteins and the characterisation of their posttranslational modifications (PTMs). The primary goal of the work described in this thesis was to employ FT-ICR mass spectrometry to investigate the molecular details of p53 redox-regulation. The relative reactivity of each of the ten cysteine residues in the DNA-binding core domain of recombinant human p53 was characterised by treatment with the Cys-alkylating reagent N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) under various conditions. A combination of top-down and middle-down FT-ICR MS was used to unambiguously identify Cys182 and Cys277 as sites of preferential alkylation. These results were confirmed by site-directed mutagenesis. Interestingly, Cys182 and Cys277 have previously been implicated in p53 redox-regulation. Alkylation beyond these two residues was found to trigger rapid alkylation of the remaining Cys residues, presumably accompanied by protein unfolding. These observations have implications for the re-activation of mutant p53 with Cys-targeting compounds which result in the death of cancer-cells. Furthermore, the molecular interaction between p53 and the ROS hydrogen peroxide was investigated. p53 was found to form two disulfide bonds upon treatment with H2O2. An enrichment strategy was developed to purify oxidised p53 and top-down FT-ICR mass spectrometry revealed unambiguously that Cys176, 182, 238 and 242 were the oxidised residues. Interestingly, Cys176, 238 and 242 are Zn2+- binding residues suggesting that p53 contains a zinc-redox switch. The mechanism of H2O2 oxidation was investigated, and revealed that oxidation via an alternative pathway results in indiscriminate over-oxidation of p53. Moreover, Cys176, 238 or 242 was shown to act as a nucleophile, and the intracellular antioxidant glutathione (GSH) did not prevent oxidation of the Zn2+-binding Cys residues, providing further evidence for a role in p53 redox-regulation. This study has revealed hitherto unknown details regarding the chemistry of cysteine residues within the important tumour-suppressor protein p53. Furthermore, the analytical power of FT-ICR MS for the study of multiple Cys-containing proteins has been very clearly demonstrated.