In cells, sequence-specific transcription factors must search through an entire genome to find their target sites in promoters. Such sites may be identified by using one-dimensional (linear diffusion) and/or three-dimensional (association/dissociation) mechanisms. We show here that wild-type p53 possesses the ability to linearly diffuse on DNA. p53 lacking its C terminus is incapable of such sliding along DNA, while the isolated C terminus of p53 is even more effective than the full-length protein at one-dimensional linear diffusion. Importantly, neither acetylation-mimicking mutations nor phosphorylation of residues within the C terminus stimulates linear diffusion by p53. Supporting these in vitro observations, we found that C-terminally deleted p53 (p53Δ30) expressed at physiological levels is deficient in binding to and transactivating downstream promoters in vivo. Therefore, our data show that the C terminus is a positive regulator of DNA binding in vivo and in vitro, and indicate that the mechanism may involve linear diffusion.
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