The cysteine protease CP14 has been identified as a central component of a molecular module regulating programmed cell death in plant embryos. CP14 belongs to a distinct subfamily of papain-like cysteine proteinases of which no representative has been characterized thoroughly to date. However, it has been proposed that CP14 is a cathepsin H-like protease. We have now produced recombinant Nicotiana benthamiana CP14 (NbCP14) lacking the C-terminal granulin domain. As typical for papain-like cysteine proteinases, NbCP14 undergoes rapid autocatalytic activation when incubated at low pH. The mature protease is capable of hydrolysing several synthetic endopeptidase substrates, but cathepsin H-like aminopeptidase activity could not be detected. NbCP14 displays a strong preference for aliphatic over aromatic amino acids in the specificity-determining P2 position. This subsite selectivity was also observed upon digestion of proteome-derived peptide libraries. Notably, the specificity profile of NbCP14 differs from that of aleurain-like protease, the N. benthamiana orthologue of cathepsin H. We conclude that CP14 is a papain-like cysteine proteinase with unusual enzymatic properties which may prove of central importance for the execution of programmed cell death during plant development.
Keywords: Cathepsin; Cell death; Cysteine protease; Degradomics; Plant.
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