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J Biol Chem. 1990 Feb 25;265(6):3417-23.

Maturation of Escherichia coli maltose-binding protein by signal peptidase I in vivo. Sequence requirements for efficient processing and demonstration of an alternate cleavage site.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599-7290.


Comparative analyses of a number of secretory proteins processed by eukaryotic and prokaryotic signal peptidases have identified a strongly conserved feature regarding the residues positioned -3 and -1 relative to the cleavage site. These 2 residues of the signal peptide are thought to constitute a recognition site for the processing enzyme and are usually amino acids with small, neutral side chains. It was shown previously that the substitution of aspartic acid for alanine at -3 of the Escherichia coli maltose-binding protein (MBP) signal peptide blocked maturation by signal peptidase I but had no noticeable effect or MBP translocation across the cytoplasmic membrane of its biological activity. This identified an excellent system in which to undertake a detailed investigation of the structural requirements and limitations for the cleavage site. In vitro mutagenesis was used to generate 14 different amino acid substitutions at -3 and 13 different amino acid substitutions at -1 of the MBP signal peptide. The maturation of the mutant precursor species expressed in vivo was examined. Overall, the results obtained agreed fairly well with statistically derived models of signal peptidase I specificity, except that cysteine was found to permit efficient processing when present at either -3 and -1, and threonine at -1 resulted in inefficient processing. Interestingly, it was found that substitutions at -1 which blocked processing at the normal cleavage site redirected processing, with varying efficiencies, to an alternate site in the signal peptide represented by the Ala-X-Ala sequence at positions -5 to -3. The substitution of aspartic acid for alanine at -5 blocked processing at this alternate site but not the normal site. The amino acids occupying the -5 and -3 positions in many other prokaryotic signal peptides also have the potential for constituting alternate processing sites. This appears to represent another example of redundant information contained within the signal peptide.

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