Granzyme K displays highly restricted substrate specificity that only partially overlaps with granzyme A

Granzymes are serine proteases stored in cytolytic granules of cytotoxic lymphocytes that eliminate virus-infected and tumor cells. Little is known about the molecular mechanism and function of granzyme (Gr)K. GrK is similar to GrA in that they are the only granzymes that display tryptase-like activity. Both granzymes induce cell death by single-stranded nicking of the chromosomal DNA by cleaving the same components of the endoplasmic reticulum-associated SET complex. Therefore, GrK may provide a backup and failsafe mechanism for GrA with redundant specificity. In the present study, we addressed the question of whether GrK displays identical substrate specificity as GrA. In peptide- and protease-proteomic screens, GrK and GrA displayed highly restricted substrate specificities that overlapped only partially. Whereas GrK and GrA cleave SET with similar efficiencies likely at the same sites, both granzymes cleaved the pre-mRNA-binding protein heterogeneous ribonuclear protein K with different kinetics at distinct sites. GrK was markedly more efficient in cleaving heterogeneous ribonuclear protein K than GrA. GrK, but not GrA, cleaved the microtubule network protein beta-tubulin after two distinct Arg residues. Neither GrK cleavage sites in beta-tubulin nor a peptide-based proteomic screen revealed a clear GrK consensus sequence around the P1 residue, suggesting that GrK specificity depends on electrostatic interactions between exosites of the substrate and the enzyme. We hypothesize that GrK not only constitutes a redundant functional backup mechanism that assists GrA-induced cell death but that it also displays a unique function by cleaving its own specific substrates.


N. Bovenschen, R. Quadir, A.L. van den Berg, A.B. Brenkman, I. Vandenberghe, B. Devreese, J. Joore, J.A. Kummer
Authors from the NMC: 
2009; 284 (6): 3504-3512
Published in: 
Journal of Biological Chemistry
Date of publication: 
February, 2009
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