Amino acid substitutions in the N-terminal segment of cystatin C create selective protein inhibitors of lysosomal cysteine proteinases

R W Mason, K Sol-Church, M Abrahamson
Biochemical Journal 1998 March 1, 330: 833-8
We used site-directed mutagenesis to alter the specificity of human cystatin C, an inhibitor with a broad reactivity against cysteine proteinases. Nine cystatin C variants containing amino acid substitutions in the N-terminal (L9W, V10W, V10F and V10R) and/or the C-terminal (W106G) enzyme-binding regions were designed and produced in Escherichia coli. It was discovered that the inhibition profile of the cystatin could be altered by changing residues 9 and 10, which are proposed to bind in the S3 and S2 substrate-binding pockets respectively of the enzymes. All of the variants with substitutions in the N-terminal segment displayed decreased binding to cathepsins B and H, indicating that the S3 and S2 pockets of these enzymes cannot easily accommodate large aromatic residues. The introduction of a charged residue into S2 (variant V10R) created a more specific inhibitor to distinguish cathepsin B from cathepsin H. Cathepsin L showed a preference for larger aromatic residues in S2. In contrast, cathepsin S preferred phenylalanine to valine in S2, but bound less tightly to the V10W cystatin variant. The latter variant proved to be valuable for discriminating between cathepsin L and cathepsin S (Ki 2.4 and 190 pM respectively). The equilibrium dissociation constant of the complex between cathepsin L and variant L9W/W106G showed little difference in affinity from that of the cathepsin L complex with the singly substituted W106G variant. In contrast, the L9W/W106G variant displayed increased specificity for cathepsin S with a Ki of 10 pM. Our results clearly indicate differences in the specificity of interaction between the N-terminal region of cystatin C and cathepsins B, H, L and S, and that, although cystatin C has evolved to be a good inhibitor of all of the mammalian cysteine proteinases, more specific inhibitors of the individual enzymes can be engineered.

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