Streptococcal M protein
conserved pepsin site
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Abstract Serologically distinct group A streptococcal M proteins, the antiphagocytic determinants of the bacteria, have a highly repetitive sequence and exhibit a heptad periodicity characteristic of alpha-helical coiled-coil proteins. Based on the differences in the pattern of heptad periodicity, the coiled-coil region of the complete M molecule has been divided into three distinct domains: I, II, and III. Domains I and II together constitute the variable part of M protein, whereas domain III is conserved among serotypes. Pepsin treatment of the M5, M6, and M24 streptococci results in a preferential cleavage of their M molecules between the predicted domains II and III, releasing biologically active fragments of the respective M proteins. Thus, a pepsin cleavage site at the junction of their variable and conserved regions is conserved in the M5, M6, and M24 proteins. In contrast, in the case of the M49 streptococci, the primary site of pepsin cleavage was observed to be within the conserved region of the M49 molecule, rather than at the junction of its variable and conserved regions. Despite containing part of the conserved region, the PepM49 protein is significantly smaller than the pepsin fragments of the M5, M6, and M24 proteins, which contain only the variable regions. However, in addition to the major PepM49 species, the pepsin digest of the type-49 streptococci also contained a smaller fragment, PepM49/a, as a minor component. Its formation was extremely sensitive to thepH of pepsin digestion. PepM49/a, which retains both the propensity to attain an alpha-helical conformation and the opsonic antibody epitope of the M49 molecule, contains only domains I and II like the other PepM proteins. Thus, as in the M5, M6, and M24 proteins, a pepsin cleavage site at the junction of the variable and conserved regions is indeed present in the M49 molecule, but is much less accessible relative to the other serotypes. Thus, the pepsin cleavage sites in the M protein correlate quite well with the boundaries of structurally distinct domains reflected by the predictive analysis. These sites apparently represent the flexible/hinge regions of the molecule. PepM49/a is the least repetitive and the shortest of the M protein pepsin fragments isolated so far. These results suggest that the flexibility of the interdomain regions in M protein may be dependent on the molecular size of their variable domains. The placement of a more accessible hinge within the conserved part of the M49 molecule, rather than at the junction of the variable and conserved domains, suggests that a critical molecular size may be essential for the efficient functioning of the M molecule.
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