Engineering and analysis of protease fine specificity via site-directed mutagenesis



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Altering the substrate specificity of proteases is a powerful process with possible applications in many areas of therapeutics as well as proteomics. Although the field is still developing, several proteases have been successfully engineered to recognize novel substrates. Previously in our laboratory, eight highly active OmpT variants were engineered with novel catalytic sites. The present study examined the roles of several residues surrounding the active site of OmpT while attempting to use rational design to modulate fine specificity enough to create a novel protease that prefers phosphotyrosine containing substrates relative to sulfotyrosine or unmodified tyrosine residues. In particular, a previously engineered sulfotyrosine-specific OmpT variant (Varadarajan et al., 2008) was the starting point for rationally designing fifteen new OmpT variants in an attempt to create a highly active protease that would selectively cleave phosphotyrosine substrates. Our design approach was to mimic the most selective phosphoryl-specific enzymes and binding proteins by increasing positive charge around the active site. Sulfonyl esters have a net overall charge of -1 near neutral pH, while phosphate monoesters have a net overall charge of -2. Selected active site residues were mutated by site-directed mutagenesis to lysine, arginine, and histidine. The catalytic activities and substrate specificities of each variant were characterized. Although several variants displayed altered substrate specificity, none preferred phosphotyrosine over sulfotyrosine containing peptides.
Taken together, our results have underscored the subtle nature of protease substrate specificity and how elusive it can be to engineer fine specificity. Apparently, phosphotyrosine specific variants were not possible within the context of our starting sulfotyrosine specific OmpT derivative mutated to have single amino acid changes chosen on the basis of differential charge interactions.