The serine/threonine PP-1c (protein phosphatase-1 catalytic subunit) is regulated by association with multiple regulatory subunits. Human ASPPs (apoptosis-stimulating proteins of p53) comprise three family members: ASPP1, ASPP2 and iASPP (inhibitory ASPP), which is uniquely overexpressed in many cancers. While ASPP2 and iASPP are known to bind PP-1c, we now identify novel and distinct molecular interactions that allow all three ASPPs to bind differentially to PP-1c isoforms and p53. iASPP lacks a PP-1c-binding RVXF motif; however, we show it interacts with PP-1c via a RARL sequence with a Kd value of 26 nM. Molecular modelling and mutagenesis of PP-1c–ASPP protein complexes identified two additional modes of interaction. First, two positively charged residues, Lys260 and Arg261 on PP-1c, interact with all ASPP family members. Secondly, the C-terminus of the PP-1c α, β and γ isoforms contain a type-2 SH3 (Src homology 3) poly-proline motif (PxxPxR), which binds directly to the SH3 domains of ASPP1, ASPP2 and iASPP. In PP-1cγ this comprises residues 309–314 (PVTPPR). When the Px(T)PxR motif is deleted or mutated via insertion of a phosphorylation site mimic (T311D), PP-1c fails to bind to all three ASPP proteins. Overall, we provide the first direct evidence for PP-1c binding via its C-terminus to an SH3 protein domain.

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