The von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (pVHL) negatively regulates hypoxia-inducible mRNAs such as the mRNA encoding vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). This activity has been linked to its ability to form multimeric complexes that contain elongin C, elongin B, and Cul2. To understand this process in greater detail, we performed a series of in vitro binding assays using pVHL, elongin B, and elongin C variants as well as synthetic peptide competitors derived from pVHL or elongin C. A subdomain of elongin C (residues 17-50) was necessary and sufficient for detectable binding to elongin B. In contrast, elongin B residues required for binding to elongin C were not confined to a discrete colinear domain. We found that the pVHL (residues 157-171) is necessary and sufficient for binding to elongin C in vitro and is frequently mutated in families with VHL disease. These mutations preferentially involve residues that directly bind to elongin C and/or alter the conformation of pVHL such that binding to elongin C is at least partially diminished. These results are consistent with the view that diminished binding of pVHL to the elongins plays a causal role in VHL disease.
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