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Structure and function of plant aspartic proteinases

by Isaura Simões, Carlos Faro
European Journal of Biochemistry ()

Abstract

Aspartic proteinases of the A1 family are widely distributed among plant species and have been purified from a variety of tissues. They are most active at acidic pH, are specifically inhibited by pepstatin A and contain two aspartic residues indispensible for catalytic activity. The three-dimensional structure of two plant aspartic proteinases has been determined, sharing significant structural similarity with other known structures of mammalian aspartic proteinases. With a few exceptions, the majority of plant aspartic proteinases identified so far are synthesized with a prepro-domain and subsequently converted to mature two-chain enzymes. A characteristic feature of the majority of plant aspartic proteinase precursors is the presence of an extra protein domain of about 100 amino acids known as the plant-specific insert, which is highly similar both in sequence and structure to saposin-like proteins. This insert is usually removed during processing and is absent from the mature form of the enzyme. Its functions are still unclear but a role in the vacuolar targeting of the precursors has been proposed. The biological role of plant aspartic proteinases is also not completely established. Nevertheless, their involvement in protein processing or degradation under different conditions and in different stages of plant development suggests some functional specialization. Based on the recent findings on the diversity of A1 family members in Arabidopsis thaliana, new questions concerning novel structure-function relationships among plant aspartic proteinases are now starting to be addressed.

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