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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;603:268-78.

Using every trick in the book: the Pla surface protease of Yersinia pestis.

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Faculty of Biosciences, General Microbiology, University of Helsinki, Finland.


The Pla surface protease of Yersinia pestis, encoded by the Y. pestis-specific plasmid pPCP1, is a versatile virulence factor. In vivo studies have shown that Pla is essential in the establishment of bubonic plague, and in vitro studies have demonstrated various putative virulence functions for the Pla molecule. Pla is a surface protease of the omptin family, and its proteolytic targets include the abundant, circulating human zymogen plasminogen, which is activated by Pla to the serine protease plasmin. Plasmin is important in cell migration, and Pla also proteolytically inactivates the main circulating inhibitor of plasmin, alpha2-antiplasmin. Pla also is an adhesin with affinity for laminin, a major glycoprotein of mammalian basement membranes, which is degraded by plasmin but not by Pla. Together, these functions create uncontrolled plasmin proteolysis targeted at tissue barriers. Other proteolytic targets for Pla include complement proteins. Pla also mediates bacterial invasion into human endothelial cell lines; the adhesive and invasive charateristics of Pla can be genetically dissected from its proteolytic activity. Pla is a 10-stranded antiparallel beta-barrel with five surface-exposed short loops, where the catalytic residues are oriented inwards at the top of the beta-barrel. The sequence of Pla contains a three-dimensional motif for protein binding to lipid A of the lipopolysaccharide. Indeed, the proteolytic activity of Pla requires rough lipopolysaccharide but is sterically inhibited by the O antigen in smooth LPS, which may be the selective advantage of the loss of O antigen in Y. pestis. Members of the omptin family are highly similar in structure but differ in functions and virulence association. The catalytic residues of omptins are conserved, but the variable substrate specificities in proteolysis by Pla and other omptins are dictated by the amino acid sequences near or at the surface loops, and hence reflect differences in substrate binding. The closest orthologs of Pla are PgtE of Salmonella and Epo of Erwinia, which functionally differ from Pla. Pla gives a model of how a horizontally transferred protein fold can diverge into a powerful virulence factor through adaptive mutations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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