Protein–protein recognition: a computational mutagenesis study of the MDM2–P53 complex


Protein P53 is involved in more than 50% of the human cancers and the P53–MDM2 complex is a target for anticancer drug design. It is possible to engineer small P53 mimics that would be expected to disrupt the P53–MDM2 complex, and release P53 to initiate cell-cycle arrest or apoptosis. These small peptides should bind to the functional epitopes of the protein–protein interface, and prevent the interaction between P53 and MDM2. Here, we apply an improved computational alanine scanning mutagenesis method, which allows the determination of the hot spots present in both monomers, P53 and MDM2, of three protein complexes (the P53-binding domain of human MDM2, its analogue from Xenopus laevis, and the structure of human MDM2 in complex with an optimized P53 peptide). The importance of the hydrogen bonds formed by the protein backbone has been neglected due to the difficulty of measuring experimentally their contribution to the binding free energy. In this study we present a computational approach that allows the estimation of the contribution to the binding free energy of the C=O and N–H groups in the backbone of the P53 and MDM2 proteins. We have noticed that the hydrogen bond between the HE1 atom of the hot spot Trp23 and the O atom of the residue Leu54, as well as the NH-pi hydrogen bond between the Ile57 and Met58 were observed in the Molecular dynamics simulation, and their contribution to the binding free energy measured. This study not only shows the reliability of the computational mutagenesis method to detect hot spots but also demonstrates an excellent correlation between the quantitative calculated binding free energy contribution of the C=O and N–H backbone groups of the interfacial residues and the qualitative values expected for this kind of interaction. The study also increases our understanding of the P53–MDM2 interaction.

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Correspondence to Maria J. Ramos.

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Contribution to the Nino Russo Special Issue.

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Moreira, I.S., Fernandes, P.A. & Ramos, M.J. Protein–protein recognition: a computational mutagenesis study of the MDM2–P53 complex. Theor Chem Account 120, 533–542 (2008).

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  • Alanine scanning mutagenesis
  • Hot spot
  • Bindingfree energy
  • Protein-protein interface
  • Molecular mechanics
  • P53
  • MDM2
  • Mutagenesis
  • Backbone hydrogen bond