The p53-inhibitory function of the oncoprotein MDM2 is regulated by a number of MDM2-binding proteins, including ARF and ribosomal proteins L5, L11, and L23, which bind the central acidic domain of MDM2 and inhibit its E3 ubiquitin ligase activity. Various human cancer-associated MDM2 alterations targeting the central acidic domain have been reported, yet the functional significance of these mutations in tumor development has remained unclear. Here, we show that cancer-associated missense mutations targeting MDM2's central zinc finger disrupt the interaction of MDM2 with L5 and L11. We found that the zinc finger mutant MDM2 is impaired in undergoing nuclear export and proteasomal degradation as well as in promoting p53 degradation, yet retains the function of suppressing p53 transcriptional activity. Unlike the wild-type MDM2, whose p53-suppressive activity can be inhibited by L11, the MDM2 zinc finger mutant escapes L11 inhibition. Hence, the MDM2 central zinc finger plays a critical role in mediating MDM2's interaction with ribosomal proteins and its ability to degrade p53, and these roles are disrupted by human cancer-associated MDM2 mutations.
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