Author(s): Klimpel KR, Molloy SS, Thomas G, Leppla SH
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Abstract Proteolytic cleavage of the protective antigen (PA) protein of anthrax toxin at residues 164-167 is necessary for toxic activity. Cleavage by a cellular protease at this sequence, Arg-Lys-Lys-Arg, normally follows binding of PA to a cell surface receptor. We attempted to identify this protease by determining its sequence specificity and catalytic properties. Semi-random cassette mutagenesis was used to generate mutants with replacements of residues 164-167 by Arg, Lys, Ser, or Asn. Analysis of 19 mutant proteins suggested that lethal factor-dependent toxicity required the sequence Arg-Xaa-Xaa-Arg. Based on these data, three additional mutants were constructed with the sequences Ala-Lys-Lys-Arg, Arg-Lys-Lys-Ala, and Arg-Ala-Ala-Arg. Of these mutant proteins, Arg-Ala-Ala-Arg was toxic, confirming that the cellular protease can recognize the sequence Arg-Xaa-Xaa-Arg. The mutant containing the sequence Ala-Lys-Lys-Arg was also toxic but required > 13 times more protein to produce equivalent toxicity. This sequence specificity is similar to that of the ubiquitous subtilisin-like protease furin, which is involved in processing of precursors of certain receptors and growth factors. Therefore we tested whether a recombinant soluble furin would cleave PA. This furin derivative efficiently cleaved native PA and the Arg-Ala-Ala-Arg mutant but not the nontoxic PA mutants. In addition, previously identified inhibitors of furin blocked cleavage of receptor-bound PA. These data imply that furin is the cellular protease that activates PA, and that nearly all cell types contain at least a small amount of furin exposed on their cell surface.
This article was published in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
and referenced in Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense