Proproteins and prohormones are the fundamental units from which bioactive proteins and peptides as well as neuropeptides are derived by limited proteolysis within the secretory pathway. Precursors are usually cleaved at the general motif (K/R)-(X)(n)-(K/R)↓, where n=0, 2, 4 or 6 and X is any amino acid and usually is not a Cys. Seven mammalian precursor convertases (PCs) have been identified: PC1, PC2, furin, PC4, PC5, PACE4 and PC7. Each of these enzymes, either alone or in combination with others, is responsible for the tissue-specific processing of multiple polypeptide precursors both in the brain and in periphery. This combinatorial mechanism generates a large diversity of bioactive molecules in an exquisitively regulated manner. The production of null mice allowed the assessment of the critical role of convertases in vivo. Thus, male PC4 (-/-) mice are infertile, furin (-/-) and PC1(-/-) mice are embryonic lethal, and PC2 (-/-) mice are mildly diabetic and runted. Interestingly, animals deficient in 7B2, a PC2-specific binding protein, exhibit a Cushing-like syndrome and die soon after birth. Recently, the first member of a new class of subtilisin-kexin-like convertases, called SKI-1, was identified. Its structure is closer to pyrolysin than to mammalian PCs and it exhibits a specificity for cleavage at the motif (R/K)-X-X-(L,T)↓ as deduced from its ability to process sterol regulatory element binding proteins and pro-brain derived neurotrophic factor. Thus, while PCs are responsible for the processing of neuropeptides, adhesion molecules, receptors, growth factors, cell surface glycoprotein and enzymes, SKI-1 cleaves proproteins that are critical for the control of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism and for neuronal protection and growth. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.
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