Evidence of Alternative Cystatin C Signal Sequence Cleavage Which Is Influenced by the A25T Polymorphism

Annie Nguyen, John D. Hulleman

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10 Scopus citations


Cystatin C (Cys C) is a small, potent, cysteine protease inhibitor. An Ala25Thr (A25T) polymorphism in Cys C has been associated with both macular degeneration and late-onset Alzheimer's disease. Previously, studies have suggested that this polymorphism may compromise the secretion of Cys C. Interestingly, we found that untagged A25T, A25T tagged C-terminally with FLAG, or A25T FLAG followed by green fluorescent protein (GFP), were all secreted as efficiently from immortalized human cells as their wild-type (WT) counterparts (e.g., 112%, 100%, and 88% of WT levels from HEK-293T cells, respectively). Supporting these observations, WT and A25T Cys C variants also showed similar intracellular steady state levels. Furthermore, A25T Cys C did not activate the unfolded protein response and followed the same canonical endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-Golgi trafficking pathway as WT Cys C. WT Cys C has been shown to undergo signal sequence cleavage between residues Gly26 and Ser27. While the A25T polymorphism did not affect Cys C secretion, we hypothesized that it may alter where the Cys C signal sequence is preferentially cleaved. Under normal conditions, WT and A25T Cys C have the same signal sequence cleavage site after Gly26 (referred to as 'site 2' cleavage). However, in particular circumstances when the residues around site 2 are modified (such as by the presence of an N-terminal FLAG tag immediately after Gly26, or by a Gly26Lys (G26K) mutation), A25T has a significantly higher likelihood than WT Cys C of alternative signal sequence cleavage after Ala20 ('site 1') or even earlier in the Cys C sequence. Overall, our results indicate that the A25T polymorphism does not cause a significant reduction in Cys C secretion, but instead predisposes the protein to be cleaved at an alternative signal sequence cleavage site if site 2 is hindered. Additional N-terminal amino acids resulting from alternative signal sequence cleavage may, in turn, affect the protease inhibition function of Cys C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0147684
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded in part by an endowment from the Roger and Dorothy Hirl Research Fund (JDH), a National Eye Institute Visual Science Core Grant (EY020799), an unrestricted grant from Research to Prevent Blindness, and a Career Development Award from Research to Prevent Blindness (JDH). The authors thank Dr. Bonnie Miller for her thoughtful review of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Nguyen, Hulleman.


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