Trypsin-like serine proteases play essential roles in diverse physiological processes such as hemostasis, apoptosis, signal transduction, reproduction, immune response, matrix remodeling, development, and differentiation. All of these proteases share an intriguing activation mechanism that involves the transition of an unfolded domain (activation domain) of the zymogen to a folded one in the active enzyme. During this conformational change, activation domain segments move around highly conserved glycine hinges. In the present study, hinge glycines were replaced by alanine residues via site directed mutagenesis. The effects of these mutations on the interconversion of the zymogen-like and active conformations as well as on catalytic activity were studied. Mutant trypsins showed zymogen-like structures to varying extents characterized by increased flexibility of some activation domain segments, a more accessible N-terminus and a deformed substrate binding site. Our results suggest that the trypsinogen to trypsin transition is hindered by the mutations, which results in a shift of the equilibrium between the inactive zymogen-like and active enzyme conformations toward the inactive state. Our data also showed, however, that the inactive conformations of the various mutants differ from each other. Binding of substrate analogues shifted the conformational equilibrium toward the active enzyme since inhibited forms of the trypsin mutants showed similar structural features as the wild-type enzyme. The catalytic activity of the mutants correlated with the proper conformation of the active site, which could be supported by varying conformations of the N-terminus and the autolysis loop. Transient kinetic measurements confirmed the existence of an inactive to active conformational transition occurring prior to substrate binding.
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