The structural proteins of rubella virus (RV) are translated as a large polyprotein precursor, p110, which is processed to produce the mature virion components, the 33K capsid protein (C) and the two envelope glycoproteins, E1 (58K) and E2 (42K to 47K). The precise processing mechanism has not been elucidated; however it must include at least two proteolytic cleavages to release the individual virion components from the polyprotein, and it must provide for their dichotomous intracellular distribution. The C protein remains in the cytoplasm where it participates in the formation of nucleocapsids, while the envelope glycoproteins enter the cellular secretory pathway and are -glycosylated and cleaved. Sequence analysis of the 24S mRNA encoding the polyprotein precursor suggests that both E1 and E2 are preceded by signal peptides for translocation across the membrane of the rough endoplasmic reticulum. A recent study has provided direct evidence that the putative signal peptide preceding E1 can in fact mediate translocation of E1. In this study, we have used translation-translocation assays to examine further the processing of RV glycoproteins. We have shown that the putative signal sequence preceding E2 can mediate translocation of the E2 protein in the absence of an intact E1 signal peptide. The experiments also revealed that cleavage of the E2-E1 polyprotein requires (i) the E2 signal peptide, (ii) microsomal membranes and (iii) sequences beyond the proximal half of the E1 signal peptide. Together these results suggest that separation of the E2 signal sequence as well as the proteolytic cleavage of E1 from E2 is performed by the cellular enzyme, signal peptidase.


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