Influenza C virus is able to inactivate its own cellular receptors by virtue of a sialate 9--acetylesterase that releases the acetyl residue at position C-9 of -accetyl-9--acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5,9Ac). The receptor-destroying enzyme activity is a function of the surface glycoprotein HEF and this esterase belongs to the class of serine hydrolases. In their active site, these enzymes contain a catalytic triad made up of a serine, a histidine and an aspartic acid residue. Sequence comparison with other serine esterases has indicated that, in addition to serine-71 (S71), the amino acids histidine-368 or -369 (H368/369) and aspartic acid 261 (D261) are the most likely candidates to form the catalytic triad of the influenza C virus glycoprotein. By site-directed mutagenesis, mutants were generated in which alanine substituted for either of these amino acids. Using a phagemid expression vector, pSP1D-HEF the HEF gene was expressed in both COS 7 and MDCK I cells. The glycoprotein was obtained in a functional form only in the latter cells, as indicated by its transport to the cell surface and measurable enzyme activity. The low level of expression could be increased by stimulating the NF-κB-binding activity of the cytomegalovirus immediate-early promoter/enhancer element of the vector. The esterase activity of the mutant proteins was compared with that of the wild-type glycoprotein. With Neu5,9Ac as the substrate, the esterase specific activities of the S71/A mutant and the H368,369/A mutant were reduced by more than 90%. In the case of the D261/A mutant the specific activity was reduced by 64%. From this data we conclude that S71, H368/369 and D261 are likely to represent the catalytic triad of the influenza C virus glycoprotein HEF. In addition, N280 is proposed to stabilize the oxyanion of the presumptive transition state intermediate formed by the enzyme-substrate complex.


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