The leader (L) proteinases of aphthoviruses (foot-and-mouth disease viruses) and equine rhinovirus serotypes 1 and 2 cleave themselves from the growing polyprotein. This cleavage occurs intramolecularly between the C terminus of the L proteinases and the N terminus of the subsequent protein VP4. The foot-and-mouth disease virus enzyme has been shown, in addition, to cleave at least one cellular protein, the eukaryotic initiation factor 4G. Mechanistically, inhibitor studies and sequence analysis have been used to classify the L proteinases as papain-like cysteine proteinases. However, sequence identity within the L proteinases themselves is low (between 18% and 32%) and only 14% between the L proteinases and papain. Secondary structure predictions, sequence alignments that take into account the positions of the essential catalytic residues, and structural considerations have been used in this study to investigate more closely the relationships between the L proteinases and papain. In spite of the low sequence identities, the analyses strongly suggest that the L proteinases of foot-and-mouth disease virus and of equine rhinovirus 1 have a similar overall fold to that of papain. Regions in the L proteinases corresponding to all five alpha-helices and seven beta-sheets of papain could be identified. Further comparisons with the proteinase bleomycin hydrolase, which also displays a papain topology in spite of important differences in size and amino acid sequence, support these conclusions and suggest how a C-terminal extension, present in all three L proteinases, and predicted to be an alpha-helix, might enable C-terminal self-processing to occur.


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