Extent of N-terminal methionine excision from Escherichia coli proteins is governed by the side-chain length of the penultimate amino acid.
In a significant fraction of the Escherichia coli cytosolic proteins, the N-terminal methionine residue incorporated during the translation initiation step is excised. The N-terminal methionine excision is catalyzed by methionyl-aminopeptidase (MAP). Previous studies have suggested that the action of this enzyme could depend mainly on the nature of the second amino acid residue in the polypeptide chain. In this study, to achieve a systematic analysis of the specificity of MAP action, each of the 20 amino acids was introduced at the penultimate position of methionyl-tRNA synthetase of E. coli and the extent of in vivo methionine excision was measured. To facilitate variant protein purification and N-terminal sequence determination, an expression shuttle vector based on protein fusion with beta-galactosidase was used. From our results, methionine excision catalyzed by MAP is shown to obey the following rule: the catalytic efficiency of MAP, and therefore the extent of cleavage, decreases in parallel with the increasing of the maximal side-chain length of the amino acid in the penultimate position. This molecular model accounts for the rate of N-terminal methionine excision in E. coli, as deduced from the analysis of 100 protein N-terminal sequences.