In foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV)-infected cells, the disappearance of nuclear protein histone H3 and the simultaneous appearance of a new chromatin-associated protein termed Pi can be observed (P. R. Grigera and S. G. Tisminetzky, Virology 136:10-19, 1984). We sequenced the amino terminus of protein Pi and showed that Pi derives from histone H3 by proteolytic cleavage. The 20 N-terminal amino acid residues of histone H3 are specifically cleaved off early during infection. Truncated histone H3 remains chromatin associated. In addition, we showed that the histone H3-Pi transition is catalyzed by the FMDV 3C protease. The only known function of the viral 3C protease was, until now, the processing of the viral polyprotein. The viral 3C protease is the only FMDV protein required to induce the histone H3-Pi transition, as well as being the only viral protein capable of cleaving histone H3. No viral precursor fusion protein is needed for this specific cleavage as was reported for the processing of the poliovirus P1 precursor polyprotein by 3C/D protease. As the deleted part of the histone H3 corresponds to the presumed regulatory domain involved in the regulation of transcriptionally active chromatin in eucaryotes, it seems possible that this specific cleavage of histone H3 is related to the host cell transcription shutoff reported for several picornaviruses
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