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Ty3 is a retroviruslike element found in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It encodes GAG3 and GAG3-POL3 polyproteins which are processed into mature proteins found in the Ty3 viruslike particle. In this study, the region encoding a protease that is homologous to retroviral aspartyl proteases was identified and shown to be required for production of mature Ty3 proteins and transposition. The Ty3 protease has the Asp-Ser-Gly consensus sequence found in copia, Ty1, and Rous sarcoma virus proteases, rather than the Asp-Thr-Gly found in most retroviral proteases. The Asp-Ser-Gly consensus is flanked by residues similar to those which flank the active sites of cellular aspartyl proteases. Mutations were made in the Ty3 active-site sequence to examine the role of the protease in Ty3 particle maturation and to test the functional significance of the Ser active-site variant in the consensus sequence. Mutation of the active-site Asp blocked processing of Gag3 and Gag3-Pol3 and allowed identification of a GAG3-POL3 polyprotein. This protein was turned over rapidly in cells expressing the mutant Ty3. Changing the active-site Ser to Thr caused only a modest reduction in the levels of certain Ty3 proteins. Five putative cleavage sites of this protease in Ty3 GAG3 and GAG3-POL3 polyproteins were defined by amino-terminal sequence analysis. The existence of an additional protein(s) of unknown function, encoded downstream of the protease-coding region, was deduced from the positions of these amino termini and the sizes of known Ty3 proteins. Although Ty3 protease cleavage sites do not correspond exactly to known retroviral protease cleavage sites, there are similarities. Residues P3 through P2' in the regions encompassing each of the five sites are uncharged, and no P1 position is occupied by an amino acid with a branched beta carbon.