Understanding the regulation of physiological processes requires detailed knowledge of the recognition of substrates by enzymes. One of the most productive model systems for the study of enzyme-substrate interactions is the serine protease family; however, most studies of protease action have used small substrates that contain an activated, non-natural scissile bond. Because few kinetic or structural studies have used protein substrates, the physiologically relevant target of most proteases, it seems likely that important mechanisms of substrate recognition and processing by proteases have not yet been fully elucidated. Consistent with this hypothesis, we have observed that Km values for protein substrates are reduced as much as 200-15000-fold relative to those of analogous peptide substrates. Here we examine the thermodynamic consequences of interactions between proteases and their substrates using staphylococcal nuclease (SNase) and SNase variants as model protein substrates. We have obtained values for enthalpy, entropy, and Kd for binding of proteins and peptides by the nonspecific protease trypsin and the highly specific protease urokinase-type plasminogen activator (u-PA). To avoid cleavage of substrates during these measurements, we used inactive variants of trypsin and u-PA whose catalytic serine S195 had been replaced by alanine. Differences in the Kd values for binding of protein and peptide substrates closely approximate the large differences observed in the corresponding Km values. Improved binding of protein substrates is due to decreased enthalpy, and this effect is pronounced for the selective protease u-PA. Fundamental differences in recognition of analogous protein and peptide substrates may have influenced the evolution of protease specificity.
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