Human T cell leukaemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) protease (PR14) was expressed in bacteria and purified by gel filtration. A continuous spectrophotometric assay was used to measure the kinetic parameters of substrate hydrolysis by PR14. Several peptide substrates containing HTLV-1 sequences known to be cleaved by PR14 were used. Cleavage analysis showed that the affinity with which PR14 binds these substrates is higher than that previously reported for HTLV-1 Gag peptides. Also, the affinities of peptides containing the sites involved in autocleavage of protease from its precursor are higher than for the peptides containing sites required for structural protein maturation. This suggests that the autocatalysis of protease from its own precursor has priority over other cleavage reactions and supports similar observations of an ordered hierarchy of processing events by retroviral proteases. As the N- and C-terminal regions of retroviral aspartic proteases are known to contribute to stability of the dimer by forming antiparallel β-strands, short peptides corresponding to these terminal sequences of HTLV-1 protease were tested for their ability to inhibit cleavage of substrates by PR14. Inhibition was seen with a C-terminal peptide corresponding exactly to the C-terminal 11 amino acids of the processed PR14, whereas a peptide containing a sequence situated further from the C terminus was less effective. An inhibitor of the protease of human immunodeficiency virus type 1, Ro 31-8959, was found to be a poor inhibitor of PR14.


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