Proteolytic activation of the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein gp160 is selectively performed by the proprotein convertase furin at the C terminus of the sequence R508-E-K-R511 (site 1), in spite of the presence of another consensus sequence, Lys500-Ala-Lys-Arg503 (site 2). On the basis of the solution structural analysis of the synthetic peptide p498, spanning the gp160 sequence Pro498-Gly516, we previously suggested a possible role of an N-terminal helix in regulating the exposure and accessibility of the gp160 physiological cleavage site, enclosed in a loop. Here we report on the activity and conformation of the 23 residue peptide h-REKR, designed to exhibit a large N terminal helix, followed by the gp160 native sequence, Arg508-Gly516, h-REKR is digested by furin with high efficiency comparable to the full native p498. Circular dichroism analyses, in mixtures from pure water to 98% trifluoroethanol, outline a significant content of helical structure in the peptide conformation. The molecular model obtained from NMR data collected in trifluoroethanol/water, by means of DYANA and AMBER simulations, indeed has helical structure on a large N-terminal segment. Such a long helix does not seem to affect the loop conformation of the C-terminal site 1-containing sequence, which exhibits the same proton chemical shifts already observed for the full native p498.
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