Before furin can act on protein substrates, it must go through an ordered process of activation. Similar to many other proteinases, furin is synthesized as a zymogen (profurin) which becomes active only after the autocatalytic removal of its auto-inhibitory prodomain. We hypothesized that to activate profurin its prodomain had to be removed and, in addition, the emerging enzyme's N-terminus had to be ejected from the catalytic cleft.
We constructed and analyzed the profurin mutants in which the egress of the emerging enzyme's N-terminus from the catalytic cleft was restricted. Mutants were autocatalytically processed at only the primary cleavage site Arg-Thr-Lys-Arg107↓Asp108, but not at both the primary and the secondary (Arg-Gly-Val-Thr-Lys-Arg75↓Ser76) cleavage sites, yielding, as a result, the full-length prodomain and mature furins commencing from the N-terminal Asp108. These correctly processed furin mutants, however, remained self-inhibited by the constrained N-terminal sequence which continuously occupied the S′ sub-sites of the catalytic cleft and interfered with the functional activity. Further, using the in vitro cleavage of the purified prodomain and the analyses of colon carcinoma LoVo cells with the reconstituted expression of the wild-type and mutant furins, we demonstrated that a three-step autocatalytic processing including the cleavage of the prodomain at the previously unidentified Arg-Leu-Gln-Arg89↓Glu90 site, is required for the efficient activation of furin.
Collectively, our results show the restrictive role of the enzyme's N-terminal region in the autocatalytic activation mechanisms. In a conceptual form, our data apply not only to profurin alone but also to a range of self-activated proteinases.