The p53 tumour suppressor is a short-lived protein that is maintained at low levels in normal cells by Mdm2-mediated ubiquitination and subsequent proteolysis. Stabilization of p53 is crucial for its tumour suppressor function. However, the precise mechanism by which ubiquitinated p53 levels are regulated in vivo is not completely understood. By mass spectrometry of affinity-purified p53-associated factors, we have identified herpesvirus-associated ubiquitin-specific protease (HAUSP) as a novel p53-interacting protein. HAUSP strongly stabilizes p53 even in the presence of excess Mdm2, and also induces p53-dependent cell growth repression and apoptosis. Significantly, HAUSP has an intrinsic enzymatic activity that specifically deubiquitinates p53 both in vitro and in vivo. In contrast, expression of a catalytically inactive point mutant of HAUSP in cells increases the levels of p53 ubiquitination and destabilizes p53. These findings reveal an important mechanism by which p53 can be stabilized by direct deubiquitination and also imply that HAUSP might function as a tumour suppressor in vivo through the stabilization of p53.
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