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The most frequently mutated protein in human cancer is p53, a transcription factor (TF) that regulates myriad genes instrumental in diverse cellular outcomes including growth arrest and cell death. Cell context-dependent p53 modulation is critical for this life-or-death balance, yet remains incompletely understood. Here we identify sequence signatures enriched in genomic p53-binding sites modulated by the transcription cofactor iASPP. Moreover, our p53–iASPP crystal structure reveals that iASPP displaces the p53 L1 loop—which mediates sequence-specific interactions with the signature-corresponding base—without perturbing other DNA-recognizing modules of the p53 DNA-binding domain. A TF commonly uses multiple structural modules to recognize its cognate DNA, and thus this mechanism of a cofactor fine-tuning TF–DNA interactions through targeting a particular module is likely widespread. Previously, all tumor suppressors and oncoproteins that associate with the p53 DNA-binding domain—except the oncogenic E6 from human papillomaviruses (HPVs)—structurally cluster at the DNA-binding site of p53, complicating drug design. By contrast, iASPP inhibits p53 through a distinct surface overlapping the E6 footprint, opening prospects for p53-targeting precision medicine to improve cancer therapy.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date





17470 - 17479