The tumor suppressor p53 is a multidomain transcription factor that can quickly bind to its target DNA by sliding along the DNA strand. We hypothesized that the intrinsically disordered and positively charged linker of p53 regulates its search dynamics first by directly interacting with DNA and second by modulating hopping of the core domain. To test the two hypotheses, we prepared five variants of p53 in which the length and charge of the linker were modulated. The affinity for and sliding along nonspecific DNA of p53 were altered by the charge of the linker, but not by the linker length. In particular, charge neutralization significantly reduced the affinity, suggesting that the linker directly contacts the DNA. Charge neutralization eliminated the slow mode of sliding, in which the core domain was assumed to contact nonspecific DNA. In contrast, the affinity of p53 for the target DNA was not affected by linker mutations. These results demonstrate that the linker participates in a target search of p53 by contacting nonspecific DNA and recruiting the core domain to contact DNA.
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