Several studies have shown that Asp-49 is the residue that controls calcium binding in, and so plays a critical role in the calcium-mediated activation of, low-Mr group I-III phospholipases A2 (PLA2s). The present paper provides experimental evidence that Asp-49 is not an absolute prerequisite for the enzymic activity of PLA2s, and that proteins with amino acid(s) other than Asp at position 49 can exhibit significant phospholipase activity. The purification, complete amino acid sequence and characterization of ecarpholin S, a PLA2 from Echis carinatus sochureki (saw-scaled viper) venom, is described. This single-chain, 122-amino-acid, basic (pI 7.9) protein is a group II PLA2. Although Asp-49 is replaced by Ser and Tyr-28 by Phe (both of these positions being involved in the Ca2+-binding site of PLA2s), the lipolysis of soybean phosphatidylcholine and egg yolk in the presence of 10 mM CaCl2 was 1.5 times and 2.9 times greater respectively with ecarpholin S than with recombinant human group II PLA2. The Ca2+-dependencies of the enzymic activities of ecarpholin S and rPLA2 were found to be similar. Ecarpholin S added to washed platelets induced aggregation; the presence of Ca2+ was a prerequisite for this platelet-aggregating effect. Computer modelling of the Ca2+-binding site of Ser-49 PLA2 compared with the Asp-49 and Lys-49 forms, for which crystallographic data exist, shows that the Ca2+-binding site is sterically blocked by Lys-49 but not by Ser-49; in the latter, the Ser hydroxy group may replace the Asp carboxylate in stabilization of Ca2+ binding. Sequence comparisons of ecarpholin S and other low-Mr PLA2s predicts the presence of a Ser-49 group in the protein family of low-Mr PLA2s that is distinct from the Asp-49 and Lys-49 groups.

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Author notes

The protein sequence reported in this paper has been deposited in the PIR database under accession no. P48650.