European journal of biochemistry

An evolutionarily conserved tripartite tryptophan motif stabilizes the prodomains of cathepsin L-like cysteine proteases.

PMID 10806395


Cathepsin L-like cysteine proteinases contain an evolutionarily highly conserved alpha-helical motif in the proregion. This is called the ER(F/W)N(I/V)N motif according to the conserved amino acids along one side of the helix. We studied the function of this motif using site-directed mutagenesis experiments of human procathepsin S. We replaced each of these amino acids with alanine and constructed deletion mutants lacking parts of the helix. All mutants were expressed in HEK 293 cells, but only one, W52A, was not processed to mature cathepsin S, nor was it phosphorylated or secreted into the culture medium. W52 is part of the hydrophobic core in the propeptide region of cathepsin S comprising two additional tryptophan residues, W28 and W31, also conserved among cathepsin L-like cysteine peptidases. Replacement of the latter with alanine led to consequences similar to those with the W52A mutation. Recombinant propeptides containing mutations of one of the three tryptophan residues were three orders of magnitude less effective as inhibitors of mature cathepsin S than the wild-type propeptide. The results point to a dominant role of the respective hydrophobic stack in the proper folding, transport and maturation of procathepsin S and related cathepsin L-like cysteine proteinases.