Kex2 in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a transmembrane, Ca2+-dependent serine protease of the subtilisin-like pro-protein convertase (SPC) family with specificity for cleavage after paired basic amino acids. At steady state, Kex2 is predominantly localized in late Golgi compartments and initiates the proteolytic maturation of pro-protein precursors that transit the distal secretory pathway. However, Kex2 localization is not static, and its itinerary apparently involves transiting out of the late Golgi and cycling back from post-Golgi endosomal compartments during its lifetime. We tested whether the endocytic pathway could deliver small molecules to Kex2 from the extracellular medium. Here we report that intramolecularly quenched fluorogenic substrates taken up into intact yeast revealed fluorescence due to specific cleavage by Kex2 protease in endosomal compartments. Furthermore, the endocytic delivery of protease inhibitors interfered with Kex2 activity for precursor protein processing. These observations reveal that the endocytic pathway does intersect with the cycling itinerary of active Kex2 protease. This strategy of endocytic drug delivery has implications for modulating SPC protease activity needed for hormone, toxin and viral glycoprotein precursor processing in human cells.

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