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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2018 Sep 29. doi: 10.1007/5584_2018_273. [Epub ahead of print]

Exceptionally Selective Substrate Targeting by the Metalloprotease Anthrax Lethal Factor.

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Department of Pharmacology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.


The zinc-dependent metalloprotease anthrax lethal factor (LF) is the enzymatic component of a toxin thought to have a major role in Bacillus anthracis infections. Like many bacterial toxins, LF is a secreted protein that functions within host cells. LF is a highly selective protease that cleaves a limited number of substrates in a site-specific manner, thereby impacting host signal transduction pathways. The major substrates of LF are mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases (MKKs), which lie in the middle of three-component phosphorylation cascades mediating numerous functions in a variety of cells and tissues. How LF targets its limited substrate repertoire has been an active area of investigation. LF recognizes a specific sequence motif surrounding the scissile bonds of substrate proteins. X-ray crystallography of the protease in complex with peptide substrates has revealed the structural basis of selectivity for the LF cleavage site motif. In addition to having interactions proximal to the cleavage site, LF binds directly to a more distal region in its substrates through a so-called exosite interaction. This exosite has been mapped to a surface within a non-catalytic domain of LF with previously unknown function. A putative LF-binding site has likewise been identified on the catalytic domains of MKKs. Here we review our current state of understanding of LF-substrate interactions and discuss the implications for the design and discovery of inhibitors that may have utility as anthrax therapeutics.


Anthrax; Enzyme specificity; Exosite; Metalloprotease; Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase; Protease


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