We compared the full-length capsid maturational protease (pPR, pUL80a) of human cytomegalovirus with its proteolytic domain (assemblin) for the ability to cleave two biological substrates, and we found that pPR is more efficient with both. Affinity-purified, refolded enzymes and substrates were combined under defined reaction conditions, and cleavage was monitored and quantified following staining of the resulting electrophoretically separated fragments. The enzymes were stabilized against self-cleavage by a single point mutation in each cleavage site (ICRMT-pPR and IC-assemblin). The substrates were pPR itself, inactivated by replacing its catalytic nucleophile (S132A-pPR), and the sequence-related assembly protein precursor (pAP, pUL80.5). Our results showed that (i) ICRMT-pPR is 5- to 10-fold more efficient than assemblin for all cleavages measured (i.e., the M site of pAP and the M, R, and I sites of S132A-pPR). (ii) Cleavage of substrate S132A-pPR proceeded M>R>I for both enzymes. (iii) Na2SO4 reduced M- and R-site cleavage efficiency by ICRMT-pPR, in contrast to its enhancing effect for both enzymes on I site and small peptide cleavage. (iv) Disrupting oligomerization of either the pPR enzyme or substrate by mutating Leu382 in the amino-conserved domain reduced cleavage efficiency two- to fourfold. (v) Finally, ICRMT-pPR mutants that include the amino-conserved domain, but terminate with Pro481 or Tyr469, retain the enzymatic characteristics that distinguish pPR from assemblin. These findings show that the scaffolding portion of pPR increases its enzymatic activity on biologically relevant protein substrates and provide an additional link between the structure of this essential viral enzyme and its biological mechanism
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