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Chem Biol. 1998 Jun;5(6):307-20.

Substrate binding and sequence preference of the proteasome revealed by active-site-directed affinity probes.

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Department of Pathology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



The proteasome is a multicatalytic protease complex responsible for most cytosolic protein breakdown. The complex has several distinct proteolytic activities that are defined by the preference of each for the carboxyterminal (P1) amino acid residue. Although mutational studies in yeast have begun to define substrate specificities of individual catalytically active beta subunits, little is known about the principles that govern substrate hydrolysis by the proteasome.


A series of tripeptide and tetrapeptide vinyl sulfones were used to study substrate binding and specificity of the proteasome. Removal of the aromatic amino-terminal cap of the potent tripeptide vinyl sulfone proteasome inhibitor 4-hydroxy-3-iodo-2-nitrophenyl-leucinyl-leucinyl-leucine vinyl sulfone resulted in the complete loss of binding and inhibition. Addition of a fourth amino acid (P4) to the tri-leucine core sequence fully restored inhibitory potency. 125I-labeled peptide vinyl sulfones were also used to examine inhibitor binding and to determine the correlation of subunit modification with inhibition of peptidase activity. Changing the amino acid in the P4 position resulted in dramatically different profiles of beta-subunit modification.


The P4 position, distal to the site of hydrolysis, is important in defining substrate processing by the proteasome. We observed direct correlations between subunit modification and inhibition of distinct proteolytic activities, allowing the assignment of activities to individual beta subunits. The ability of tetrapeptides, but not tripeptide vinyl sulfones, to act as substrates for the proteasome suggests there could be a minimal length requirement for hydrolysis by the proteasome. These studies indicate that it is possible to generate inhibitors that are largely specific for individual beta subunits of the proteasome by modulation of the P4 and carboxy-terminal vinyl sulfone moieties.

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