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J Biol Chem. 2003 Nov 28;278(48):48169-77. Epub 2003 Sep 17.

Enzymic, phylogenetic, and structural characterization of the unusual papain-like protease domain of Plasmodium falciparum SERA5.

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The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, 1G Royal Parade, Parkville, Victoria 3050, Australia.


Serine repeat antigen 5 (SERA5) is an abundant antigen of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and is the most strongly expressed member of the nine-gene SERA family. It appears to be essential for the maintenance of the erythrocytic cycle, unlike a number of other members of this family, and has been implicated in parasite egress and/or erythrocyte invasion. All SERA proteins possess a central domain that has homology to papain except in the case of SERA5 (and some other SERAs), where the active site cysteine has been replaced with a serine. To investigate if this domain retains catalytic activity, we expressed, purified, and refolded a recombinant form of the SERA5 enzyme domain. This protein possessed chymotrypsin-like proteolytic activity as it processed substrates downstream of aromatic residues, and its activity was reversed by the serine protease inhibitor 3,4-diisocoumarin. Although all Plasmodium SERA enzyme domain sequences share considerable homology, phylogenetic studies revealed two distinct clusters across the genus, separated according to whether they possess an active site serine or cysteine. All Plasmodia appear to have at least one member of each group. Consistent with separate biological roles for members of these two clusters, molecular modeling studies revealed that SERA5 and SERA6 enzyme domains have dramatically different surface properties, although both have a characteristic papain-like fold, catalytic cleft, and an appropriately positioned catalytic triad. This study provides impetus for the examination of SERA5 as a target for antimalarial drug design.

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