SPCs (subtilisin-like proprotein convertases) are a family of seven structurally related serine endoproteases that are involved in the proteolytic activation of proproteins. In an effort to examine the substrate protein for PACE4 (paired basic amino-acid-cleaving enzyme-4), an SPC, a potent protein inhibitor of PACE4, an α1-antitrypsin RVRR (Arg-Val-Arg-Arg) variant, was expressed in GH4C1 cells. Ectopic expression of the RVRR variant caused accumulation of the 48 kDa protein in cells. Sequence analysis indicates that the 48 kDa protein is a putative Ca2+-binding protein, RCN-3 (reticulocalbin-3), which had previously been predicted by bioinformatic analysis of cDNA from the human hypothalamus. RCN-3 is a member of the CREC (Cab45/reticulocalbin/ERC45/calumenin) family of multiple EF-hand Ca2+-binding proteins localized to the secretory pathway. The most interesting feature of the RCN-3 sequence is the presence of five Arg-Xaa-Xaa-Arg motifs, which represents the target sequence of SPCs. Biosynthetic studies showed that RCN-3 is transiently associated with proPACE4, but not with mature PACE4. Inhibition of PACE4 maturation by a Ca2+ ionophore resulted in accumulation of the proPACE4–RCN-3 complex in cells. Furthermore, autoactivation and secretion of PACE4 was increased upon co-expression with RCN-3. Our findings suggest that selective and transient association of RCN-3 with the precursor of PACE4 plays an important role in the biosynthesis of PACE4.

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