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J Biol Chem. 1988 Jul 5;263(19):9437-42.

Generation of biologically active interleukin-1 beta by proteolytic cleavage of the inactive precursor.

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  • 1Immunex Corporation, Seattle, Washington 98101.


Interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) is derived from an inactive precursor by proteolytic cleavage. To study IL-1 beta processing, we expressed the precursor in Escherichia coli, partially purified it, and used it as a substrate for various potentially relevant protease preparations. The precursor alone was virtually inactive, but incubation with membranes from human monocytes or myeloid cell lines yielded a 500-fold increase in IL-1 bioactivity. Western blot analysis of the incubated material showed that the 31,000-Da precursor is broken down to three major products, ranging from 17,400 to about 19,000 Da. The most active of these products is the smallest one, and it co-migrates during electrophoresis with mature IL-1 beta. Four purified known proteases were also tested for their effect on precursor IL-1 beta, and none of these products co-migrated with the mature protein. Chymotrypsin and Staphylococcus aureus protease yielded slightly larger products, which were highly active. Elastase and trypsin yielded substantially larger products, and these had little IL-1 activity. The products of three of the known proteases were identified by NH2-terminal sequencing. These results show conclusively that proteolysis of precursor IL-1 beta generates biological activity and that the cleavage must occur close to the mature NH2 terminus.

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