At high bacterial cell density the gene expression program of Pseudomonas aeruginosa is regulated by quorum sensing. Among the gene products highly up-regulated by this system is an exoprotease, leucine aminopeptidase (PA-LAP), which is coexpressed with several known virulence factors and secreted as a proenzyme. We undertook a study of its activation by expressing the full-length proform of PA-LAP recombinantly in Escherichia coli (here termed, rLAP55) and characterizing individual steps in its conversion to an active enzyme. Activation is initiated with the proteolytic removal of a C-terminal prosequence. Removal of ∼20 amino acids is accomplished by Pseudomonas elastase, which is also positively regulated by quorum sensing. Activation is also mediated by other proteases that cleave rLAP55 near its C terminus. The importance of the C terminus was confirmed by showing that C-terminal deletions of 1-24 amino acids produce a fully active enzyme. The removal of C-terminal prosequences either by proteolysis or deletion leads to an unusual autoprocessing event at the N terminus. Autoprocessing is apparently an intramolecular event, requires the active site of LAP, and results in the removal of 12 N-terminal amino acids. Furthermore, a detailed analysis of the C-terminal prosequence suggests that the proenzyme state is dependent on the presence of a basic side chain contributed by the last amino acid, lysine 536. Our data support a model whereby full-length PA-LAP is activated in a two-step process; proteolytic cleavage at the C terminus is followed by an intramolecular autocatalytic removal of a 12-amino acid propeptide at the N terminus
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