Prolyl oligopeptidase belongs to a new family of serine proteases which contains both exo-and endopeptidases, and this suggests that the enzyme binds its substrate in a special manner. Its secondary specificity, i.e., its interaction with the other residues linked to the proline that accounts for the primary specificity, has been investigated by using peptide substrates of various length and charge. Elongation of the classic dipeptide substrate Z-Gly-Pro-2-naphthylamide with 1-3 residues (Gln, Ala-Gln, Ala-Ala-Gln, and Ala-Lys-Gln) resulted in decreased specificity rate constants. This indicated a limited binding site for prolyl oligopeptidase, a major difference from the finding with other serine endopeptidases. Insertion of charged residues into the substrates, such as lysine or aspartic acid, considerably affected the rates and the pH-rate profiles. The rate constants were higher with the positively charged peptides and lower with the substrates bearing a negative charge. These electrostatic effects were reduced at high ionic strength. The results can be interpreted in terms of a negatively charged active site, which exists at high pH and exerts electrostatic attraction or repulsion toward charged substrates. The pH dependencies of the rate constants with neutral substrates exhibited roughly bell-shaped curves, whereas with charged substrates the existence of two active enzyme forms was clearly demonstrated. The physiologically competent high pH form preferred positively charged substrates (Z-Lys-Pro-2-(4-methoxy)naphthylamide, Z-Ala-Lys-Gln-Gly-Pro-2-naphthylamide), whereas the low pH form reacted faster with the negatively charged substrate (Z-Asp-Gly-Pro-2-naphthylamide). The pH dependencies obtained with neutral substrates provided the first experimental evidence that two reactive enzyme forms when having similar reactivities may exhibit a single apparent bell-shaped curve. The kinetic results are rationalized in terms of a tunnel-like binding site which includes the catalytic residues. This approach renders it possible for the oligopeptidases to exclude large peptides from their active site.
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