A cDNA encoding a precursor of equistatin, a potent cysteine and aspartic proteinase inhibitor, was isolated from the sea anemone Actinia equina. The deduced amino acid sequence of a 199-amino-acid residue mature protein with 20 cysteine residues, forming three structurally similar thyroglobulin type-1 domains, is preceded by a typical eukaryotic signal peptide. The mature protein region and those coding for each of the domains were expressed in the periplasmic space of Escherichia coli, isolated, and characterized. The whole recombinant equistatin and its first domain, but not the second and third domains, inhibited the cysteine proteinase papain (K(i) 0.60 nM) comparably to natural equistatin. Preliminary results on inhibition of cathepsin D, supported by structural comparison, show that the second domain is likely to be involved in activity against aspartic proteinases. (C) 2000 Academic Press.
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