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J Mol Biol. 2005 Jan 14;345(2):211-27.

Proprotein convertase models based on the crystal structures of furin and kexin: explanation of their specificity.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie, Abteilung für Strukturforschung, Am Klopferspitz 18, 82152 Martinsried, Germany.


In eukaryotes, many secreted proteins and peptide hormones are excised from larger precursors by calcium-dependent serine proteinases, the proprotein/prohormone convertases (PCs). These PCs cleave their protein substrates very specifically following multiple basic residues. The seven mammalian PCs and their yeast orthologue kexin are multi-domain proteinases consisting of a subtilisin-related catalytic domain, a conserved P-domain and a variable, often cysteine-rich domain, which in some PCs is followed by an additional C-terminal trans-membrane domain and a short cytoplasmic domain. The recently published crystal structures of the soluble mouse furin and yeast kexin ectodomains have revealed the relative arrangement of catalytic and P domains, the exact domain fold and the detailed architecture of the substrate binding clefts. Based on these experimental structures, we now have modelled the structures of the other human/mouse PCs. According to topology and to structure-based sequence comparisons, these other PCs closely resemble furin, with PC4, PACE4 and PC5/6 being more similar, and PC1/3, PC2 and PC7 being less similar to furin. Except for PC1 and PC2, this order of similarity is valid for the catalytic as well as for the P domains, and is almost reversed using kexin as a reference molecule. A similar order results from the number and clustering of negative charges lining the non-prime subsites, explaining the gradually decreasing requirement for basic residues N-terminal to substrate cleavage sites. The preference of the different PCs for distinct substrates seems to be governed by overall charge compensation and matching of the detailed charge distribution pattern.

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