Proteolytic activation of the precursor envelope glycoproteins gp160 of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and gp140 of HIV-2, a prerequisite for viral infection, results in the formation of gp120/gp41 and gp125/gp36, respectively. Cleavage is mediated by cellular proteases. Furin, a member of the eukaryotic subtilisin family, has been shown to be an activating protease for HIV. Here, we compared the presence of furin and other mammalian subtilisins in lymphatic cells and tissues. Northern blot analyses revealed that furin and the recently discovered protease LPC/PC7 were the only subtilisin-like enzymes transcribed in such cells. Furin was identified as an enzymatically active endoprotease present in different lymphocytic, as well as monocytic, cell lines. When expressed from vaccinia virus vectors, the proprotein convertases were correctly processed, transported, and secreted into the media and enzymatically active. Coexpression of different subtilisins with the HIV envelope precursors revealed that furin and LPC/PC7 are able to cleave HIV-1 gp160. Moreover, both enzymes proteolytically processed the envelope precursor of HIV-2. gp140 was also cleaved to some extent by PC1, which is not, however, present in lymphatic cells. Furin- and LPC/PC7-catalyzed cleavage of HIV-1 gp160 resulted in biologically active envelope protein. In conclusion, among the known members of the subtilisin family, only furin and LPC/PC7 fulfill the requirements of a protease responsible for in vivo activation of HIV envelope glycoproteins
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