On the interaction mechanisms of a p53 peptide and nutlin with the MDM2 and MDMX proteins: a Brownian dynamics study

Karim M ElSawy, Chandra S Verma, Thomas L Joseph, David P Lane, Reidun Twarock, Leo S D Caves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The interaction of p53 with its regulators MDM2 and MDMX plays a major role in regulating the cell cycle. Inhibition of this interaction has become an important therapeutic strategy in oncology. Although MDM2 and MDMX share a very high degree of sequence/structural similarity, the small-molecule inhibitor nutlin appears to be an efficient inhibitor only of the p53-MDM2 interaction. Here, we investigate the mechanism of interaction of nutlin with these two proteins and contrast it with that of p53 using Brownian dynamics simulations. In contrast to earlier attempts to examine the bound states of the partners, here we locate initial reaction events in these interactions by identifying the regions of space around MDM2/MDMX, where p53/nutlin experience associative encounters with prolonged residence times relative to that in bulk solution. We find that the initial interaction of p53 with MDM2 is long-lived relative to nutlin, but, unlike nutlin, it takes place at the N- and C termini of the MDM2 protein, away from the binding site, suggestive of an allosteric mechanism of action. In contrast, nutlin initially interacts with MDM2 directly at the clefts of the binding site. The interaction of nutlin with MDMX, however, is very short-lived compared with MDM2 and does not show such direct initial interactions with the binding site. Comparison of the topology of the electrostatic potentials of MDM2 and MDMX and the locations of the initial encounters with p53/nutlin in tandem with structure-based sequence alignment revealed that the origin of the diminished activity of nutlin toward MDMX relative to MDM2 may stem partly from the differing topologies of the electrostatic potentials of the two proteins. Glu25 and Lys51 residues underpin these topological differences and appear to collectively play a key role in channelling nutlin directly toward the binding site on the MDM2 surface and are absent in MDMX. The results, therefore, provide new insight into the mechanism of p53/nutlin interactions with MDM2 and MDMX and could potentially have a broader impact on anticancer drug optimization strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-404
Number of pages11
JournalCell cycle
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2013

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