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J Bacteriol. May 1996; 178(9): 2605–2612.
PMCID: PMC177986

Sequence, expression in Escherichia coli, and analysis of the gene encoding a novel intracellular protease (PfpI) from the hyperthermophilic archaeon Pyrococcus furiosus.


A previously identified intracellular proteolytic activity in the hyperthermophilic archaeon Pyrococcus furiosus (I. I. Blumentals, A. S. Robinson, and R. M. Kelly, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 56:1992-1998, 1990) was found to be a homomultimer consisting of 18.8-kDa subunits. Dissociation of this native P. furiosus protease I (PfpI) into a single subunit was seen by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) but only after trichloroacetic acid precipitation; heating to 95 degrees C in the presence of 2% SDS and 80 mM dithiothreitol did not dissociate the protein. The gene (pfpI) coding for this protease was located in genomic digests by Southern blotting with probes derived from the N-terminal amino acid sequence. pfpI was cloned, sequenced, and expressed in active form in Escherichia coli as a fusion protein with a histidine tag. The recombinant protease from E. coli showed maximum proteolytic activity at 95 degrees C, and its half-life was 19 min at this temperature. This level of stability was significantly below that previously reported for the enzyme purified by electroelution of a 66-kDa band from SDS-PAGE after extended incubation of cell extracts at 98 degrees C in 1% SDS (>30 h). The pfpI gene codes for a polypeptide of 166 amino acid residues lacking any conserved protease motifs; no protease activity was detected for the 18.8-kDa PfpI subunit (native or recombinant) by substrate gel assay. Although an immunological relationship of this protease to the eukaryotic proteasome has been seen previously, searches of the available databases identified only two similar amino acid sequences: an open reading frame of unknown function from Staphylococcus aureus NCTC 8325 (171 amino acid residues, 18.6 kDa, 41% identity) and an open reading frame also of unknown function in E. coli (172 amino acid residues, 18.8 kDa, 47% identity). Primer extension experiments with P. furiosus total RNA defined the 5' end of the transcript. There are only 10 nucleotides upstream of the start of translation; therefore, it is unlikely that there are any pre- or pro-regions associated with PfpI which could have been used for targeting or assembly of this protease. Although PfpI activity appears to be the dominant proteolytic activity in P. furiosus cell extracts, the physiological function of PfpI is unclear.

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