Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
To be toxic for mammalian cells, Pseudomonas exotoxin (PE) requires proteolytic cleavage between Arg-279 and Gly-280. Cleavage, which is mediated by the cellular protease furin, generates an active C-terminal fragment which translocates to the cytosol and inhibits protein synthesis. In vitro, furin-mediated cleavage is optimal at pH 5.5 with a relatively slow turnover rate. Within cells, only 5–10% of cell-associated PE is cleaved. To investigate the reasons for this inefficient cleavage, the amino acid composition near the cleavage site was altered to resemble more closely the arginine-rich sequence from the functionally similar region of diphtheria toxin (DT). Four PE-DT mutants were generated, whereby 1, 5, 6 or 8 amino acids at the PE-cleavage site were changed to amino acids found at the DT-cleavage site. Mutant proteins were expressed in Escherichia coli, purified and then analysed for their susceptibility to cleavage by furin and trypsin, susceptibility to cell-mediated cleavage, and cytotoxic activity relative to wild-type PE. At pH 5.5, the rate of both furin-mediated cleavage and trypsin-mediated cleavage increased dramatically when amino acids in PE were altered to resemble the DT sequence. This increase did not alter the pH optimum for furin-mediated cleavage of PE toxins, which remained at pH 5.0–5.5. When radioactive versions of selected PE-DT proteins were added to intact cells, an increase in the percentage of molecules that were cleaved relative to wild-type PE was also seen. However, changes that favoured increased proteolysis apparently interfered with other important toxin functions because none of the PE-DT proteins exhibited enhanced toxicity for cells when compared with the activity of wild-type PE.
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