Serpins are a group of proteins with similar structures that were first identified as a set of proteins able to inhibit proteases. The name serpin is derived from this activity - serine protease inhibitors. [cite journal |author=R. Carrell and J. Travis. |year=1985 |title=α1-Antitrypsin and the serpins: Variation and countervariation |journal=Trends Biochem. Sci. |volume=10 |doi=10.1016/0968-0004(85)90011-8 |pages=20–24]

The first members of the serpin superfamily to be extensively studied were the human plasma proteins antithrombin and antitrypsin, which play key roles in controlling blood coagulation and inflammation, respectively. Initially, research focused upon their role in human disease: antithrombin deficiency results in thrombosis and antitrypsin deficiency causes emphysema. In 1980 Hunt and Dayhoff made the surprising discovery that both these molecules share significant amino acid sequence similarity to the major protein in chicken egg white, ovalbumin, and they proposed a new protein superfamily. [cite journal |author=Hunt LT, Dayhoff MO |title=A surprising new protein superfamily containing ovalbumin, antithrombin-III, and α1-proteinase inhibitor |journal=Biochem Biophys Res Commun. |year=1980 |volume=95 |issue=2 |pmid=6968211 |pages=864–71 |doi=10.1016/0006-291X(80)90867-0] Over 1000 serpins have now been identified, these include 36 human proteins, as well as molecules in plants, fungi, bacteria, archaea and certain viruses.cite journal |author=Steenbakkers PJ, Irving JA, Harhangi HR, "et al" |title=A serpin in the cellulosome of the anaerobic fungus Piromyces sp. strain E2 |journal=Mycol. Res. |volume=112 |issue=Pt 8 |pages=999–1006 |year=2008 |month=August |pmid=18539447 |doi=10.1016/j.mycres.2008.01.021 |url=] Serpins are thus the largest and most diverse family of protease inhibitors.cite journal |author=Rawlings ND, Tolle DP, Barrett AJ. |title=Evolutionary families of peptidase inhibitors |journal=Biochem J. |year=2004 |volume=378 |pmid=14705960 |pages=705–16. |doi=10.1042/BJ20031825]

While most serpins control proteolytic cascades, certain serpins do not inhibit enzymes, but instead perform diverse functions such as storage (ovalbumin, in egg white), hormone carriage proteins (thyroxine-binding globulin, cortisol binding globulin; Figure 1) and tumor suppressor genes (maspin). The term "serpin" is used to describe these latter members as well, despite their noninhibitory function.

As serpins control processes such as coagulation and inflammation, these proteins are the target of medical research. However, serpins are also of particular interest to the structural biology and protein folding communities, because they undergo a unique and dramatic change in shape (or conformational change) when they inhibit target proteases. This is unusual - most classical protease inhibitors function as simple "lock and key" molecules that bind to and block access to the protease active site (see for example, bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor). While the serpin mechanism of protease inhibition confers certain advantages, it also has drawbacks and serpins are vulnerable to mutations that result in protein misfolding and the formation of inactive long chain polymers (serpinopathies). Serpin polymerisation reduces the amount of active inhibitor, as well as accumulation of serpin polymers causing cell death and organ failure. For example, the serpin antitrypsin is primarily produced in the liver, and antitrypsin polymerisation causes liver cirrhosis. Understanding serpinopathies also provides insights on protein misfolding in general, a process common to many human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and CJD.

Cross class inhibitors

Most inhibitory "serpins" target chymotrypsin-like serine proteases (see Table 1 and Figure 2). These enzymes are defined by the presence of a nucleophilic serine residue in their catalytic site. Examples include thrombin, trypsin and human neutrophil elastase. [cite journal |author=Barrett AJ, Rawlings ND. |title=Families and clans of serine peptidases |journal=Arch Biochem Biophys. |year=1995 |volume=318 |issue=2 |pmid=7733651 |pages=247–50 |doi=10.1006/abbi.1995.1227]

Some serpins inhibit other classes of protease and are termed "cross class inhibitors". For example squamous cell carcinoma antigen 1 (SCCA-1) and the avian serpin myeloid and erythroid nuclear termination stage specific protein (MENT) both inhibit papain-like cysteine proteasescite journal |author=Schick C, Brömme D, Bartuski A, Uemura Y, Schechter N, Silverman G |title=The reactive site loop of the serpin SCCA1 is essential for cysteine proteinase inhibition |journal=Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A |volume=95 |issue=23 |pages=13465–70 |year=1998 |pmid=9811823 |doi=10.1073/pnas.95.23.13465] cite journal |author=McGowan S, Buckle A, Irving J, Ong P, Bashtannyk-Puhalovich T, Kan W, Henderson K, Bulynko Y, Popova E, Smith A, Bottomley S, Rossjohn J, Grigoryev S, Pike R, Whisstock J |title=X-ray crystal structure of MENT: evidence for functional loop-sheet polymers in chromatin condensation |journal=EMBO J |volume=25 |issue=13 |pages=3144–55 |year=2006 |pmid=16810322 |doi=10.1038/sj.emboj.7601201] [cite journal |author=Ong PC, McGowan S, Pearce MC, Irving JA, Kan WT, Grigoryev SA, Turk B, Silverman GA, Brix K, Bottomley SP, Whisstock JC, Pike RN |title=DNA accelerates the inhibition of human cathepsin V by serpins |journal= Journal of Biological Chemistry|volume= 282|issue= |pages= 36980|year=2007 |pmid=17923478 |doi=10.1074/jbc.M706991200]

The viral serpin crmA is a suppressor of the inflammatory response through inhibition of IL-1 and IL-18 processing by the cysteine protease caspase-1. [cite journal |author=Ray C, Black R, Kronheim S, Greenstreet T, Sleath P, Salvesen G, Pickup D |title=Viral inhibition of inflammation: cowpox virus encodes an inhibitor of the interleukin-1 beta converting enzyme |journal=Cell |volume=69 |issue=4 |pages=597–604 |year=1992 |pmid=1339309 |doi=10.1016/0092-8674(92)90223-Y] Cysteine proteases differ from serine proteases in that they are defined by the presence of a nucleophilic cysteine residue, rather than a serine residue, in their catalytic site. [cite journal |author=Barrett AJ, Rawlings ND. |title=Evolutionary lines of cysteine peptidases |journal=Biol Chem |year=2001 |volume=382 |issue=5 |pmid=11517925 |pages=727–33. |doi=10.1515/BC.2001.088] Nonetheless, the enzymatic chemistry is similar, and serpins most likely inhibit both classes of enzyme in a similar fashion. [cite journal |author=Irving JA, Pike RN, Dai W, Bromme D, Worrall DM, Silverman GA, Coetzer TH, Dennison C, Bottomley SP, Whisstock JC. |title=Evidence that serpin architecture intrinsically supports papain-like cysteine protease inhibition: engineering alpha(1)-antitrypsin to inhibit cathepsin proteases |journal=Biochemistry. |year=2002 |volume=41 |issue=15 |pmid=11939796 |pages=4998–5004 |doi=10.1021/bi0159985]

Localisation and roles

Approximately two thirds of human serpins perform extracellular roles. For example, extracellular serpins regulate the proteolytic cascades central to blood clotting (antithrombin), the inflammatory response (antitrypsin, antichymotrypsin and C1 inhibitor) and tissue remodelling (PAI-1). Non-inhibitory extracellular serpins also perform important roles. Thyroxine-binding globulin and cortisol binding globulin transport the sterol hormones thyroxine and cortisol respectively. The protease renin cleaves off a ten amino acid N-terminal peptide from angiotensinogen to produce the peptide hormone angiotensin I. [cite journal |author=Campbell DJ. |title=The renin-angiotensin and the kallikrein-kinin systems |journal=Int J Biochem Cell Biol. |year=2003 |volume=35 |issue=6 |pmid=12676165 |pages=784–91 |doi=10.1016/S1357-2725(02)00262-5] Table 1 provides a brief summary of human serpin function as well as some of the diseases that result from serpin deficiency.

The first Intracellular members of the serpin superfamily were identified in the early 1990s. [cite journal |author=Remold-O'Donnell E, Chin J, Alberts M. |title=Sequence and molecular characterization of human monocyte/neutrophil elastase inhibitor |journal=Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. |year=1992 |volume=89 |issue=12 |pmid= 1376927 |pages=5635–9 |doi=10.1073/pnas.89.12.5635] [cite journal |author=Coughlin P, Sun J, Cerruti L, Salem HH, Bird P., |title=Cloning and molecular characterization of a human intracellular serine proteinase inhibitor |journal=Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. |year=1993 |volume=90 |issue=20 |pmid=8415716 |pages=9417–21 |doi=10.1073/pnas.90.20.9417] As all nine serpins in "Caenorhabditis elegans" lack signal sequences, they are probably intracellular.cite journal |author=Pak SC, Kumar V, Tsu C, Luke CJ, Askew YS, Askew DJ, Mills DR, Bromme D, Silverman GA. |title=SRP-2 is a cross-class inhibitor that participates in postembryonic development of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans: initial characterization of the clade L serpins |journal=J Biol Chem. |year=2004 |volume=279 |issue=15 |pmid=14739286 |pages=15448–59 |doi=10.1074/jbc.M400261200] Based upon these data it seems likely that the ancestral serpin to human serpins was an intracellular molecule.

The protease targets of intracellular inhibitory serpins have been more difficult to identify. Characterisation is complicated by these molecules appearing to perform overlapping roles, as well as the lack of precise functional equivalents of human serpins in model organisms such as the mouse. An important function of intracellular serpins may be to protect against the inappropriate activity of proteases inside the cell. [cite journal |author=Bird PI. |title=Regulation of pro-apoptotic leucocyte granule serine proteinases by intracellular serpins |journal=Immunol Cell Biol |year=1999 |volume=77 |issue=1 |pmid=10101686 |pages=47–57. |doi=10.1046/j.1440-1711.1999.00787.x] For example, one of the best characterised human intracellular serpins is SERPINB9, which inhibits the cytotoxic granule protease granzyme B. In doing so, SERPINB9 may protect against inadvertent release of granzyme B and premature or unwanted activation of cell death pathways. [cite journal |author=Bird CH, Sutton VR, Sun J, Hirst CE, Novak A, Kumar S, Trapani JA, Bird PI |title=Selective regulation of apoptosis: the cytotoxic lymphocyte serpin proteinase inhibitor 9 protects against granzyme B-mediated apoptosis without perturbing the Fas cell death pathway |journal=Mol Cell Biol. |year=1998 |volume=18 |issue=11 |pmid=774654. |pages=6387–98]

Intracellular serpins also perform roles distinct from protease inhibition. For example, maspin, a non-inhibitory serpin, is important for preventing metastasis in breast and prostate cancers.cite journal |author=Zou Z, Anisowicz A, Hendrix MJ, Thor A, Neveu M, Sheng S, Rafidi K, Seftor E, Sager R. |title=Maspin, a serpin with tumor-suppressing activity in human mammary epithelial cells |journal=Science |year=1994 |volume=263 |issue=5146 |pmid=8290962 |pages=526–9 |doi=10.1126/science.8290962] [cite journal |author=Luo JL, Tan W, Ricono JM, Korchynskyi O, Zhang M, Gonias SL, Cheresh DA, Karin M. |title=Nuclear cytokine-activated IKKalpha controls prostate cancer metastasis by repressing Maspin |journal=Nature. |yesr=2007 |volume=446 |issue=7136 |year=2007 |pmid=17377533 |pages=690–4 |doi=10.1038/nature05656] Another example is the avian nuclear cysteine protease inhibitor MENT, which acts as a chromatin remodelling molecule in avian red blood cells. [cite journal |author=Grigoryev SA, Bednar J, Woodcock CL. |title=MENT, a heterochromatin protein that mediates higher order chromatin folding, is a new serpin family member |journal=J Biol Chem. |year=1999 |volume=274 |issue=9 |pmid=10026180 |pages=5626–36 |doi=10.1074/jbc.274.9.5626]

Phylogenetic studies show that most intracellular serpins belong to a single clade (see Table 1). Exceptions include the non-inhibitory heat shock serpin HSP47, which is a chaperone essential for proper folding of collagen and cycles between the cis-Golgi and the endoplasmic reticulum. [cite journal |author=Tasab M, Batten MR, Bulleid NJ |title=Hsp47: a molecular chaperone that interacts with and stabilizes correctly-folded procollagen |journal=EMBO J. |year=2000 |volume=19 |issue=10 |pmid=10811611 |pages=2204–11 |doi=10.1093/emboj/19.10.2204]


are shown in cyan. The RCL is at the top of the molecule in magenta. Two functionally important regions of the serpin, the breach and the shutter, are labelled. The figure was produced using [ PYMOL] Figure 3b: The structure of native murine antichymotrypsin (pdb code [ 1YXA] ). [cite journal |author=Horvath A, Irving J, Rossjohn J, Law R, Bottomley S, Quinsey N, Pike R, Coughlin P, Whisstock J |title=The murine orthologue of human antichymotrypsin: a structural paradigm for clade A3 serpins |journal=J. Biol. Chem. |volume=280 |issue=52 |pages=43168–78 |year=2005 |pmid=16141197 |doi=10.1074/jbc.M505598200] Colouring is as for figure 3a. Note that two amino acids of the RCL are partially inserted into the top of the A β-sheet (in red).]

Structural biology has played a central role in the understanding of serpin function and biology. Over eighty serpin structures, in a variety of different conformations (described below) have been determined to date. Although the function of serpins varies widely, these molecules all share a common structure (or fold).

The structure of the non-inhibitory serpin ovalbumin, and the inhibitory serpin antitrypsin revealed the archetype native serpin fold. [cite journal |author=Stein PE, Leslie AG, Finch JT, Turnell WG, McLaughlin PJ, Carrell RW. |title=Crystal structure of ovalbumin as a model for the reactive centre of serpins |journal=Nature. |year=1990 |volume=347 |issue=6288 |pmid=2395463 |pages=99–102 |doi=10.1038/347099a0] All typically have three β-sheets (termed A, B and C) and eight or nine α-helices (hA-hI) (see figure 3). Serpins also possess an exposed region termed the reactive centre loop (RCL) that in inhibitory molecules includes the specificity determining region and forms the initial interaction with the target protease. In antitrypsin, the RCL is held at the top of the molecule and is not pre-inserted into the A β-sheet (figure 3, left panel). This conformation commonly exists in dynamic equilibrium with a partially inserted native conformation seen in other inhibitory serpins (see figure 3, right panel).

Conformational change and inhibitory mechanism

Early studies on serpins revealed that the mechanism by which these molecules inhibit target proteases appeared distinct from the "lock-and-key"-type mechanism utilised by small protease inhibitors such as the Kunitz-type inhibitors (eg. Basic pancreatic protease inhibitor). Indeed, serpins form covalent complexes with target proteases. [cite journal |author=Egelund R, Rodenburg K, Andreasen P, Rasmussen M, Guldberg R, Petersen T |title=An ester bond linking a fragment of a serine proteinase to its serpin inhibitor |journal=Biochemistry |volume=37 |issue=18 |year=1998 |pmid=9572853 |pages=6375–9 |doi=10.1021/bi973043 |doi_brokendate=2008-06-21] Structural studies on serpins also revealed that inhibitory members of the family undergo an unusual conformational change, termed the Stressed to Relaxed (S to R) transition.cite journal |author=Loebermann H, Tokuoka R, Deisenhofer J, Huber R. |title=Human alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor. Crystal structure analysis of two crystal modifications, molecular model and preliminary analysis of the implications for function |journal=J Mol Biol. |year=1984 |volume=177 |issue=3 |pmid= 6332197 |pages=531–57 |doi=10.1016/0022-2836(84)90298-5] cite journal |author=Whisstock J, Bottomley S |title=Molecular gymnastics: serpin structure, folding and misfolding |journal=Curr Opin Struct Biol |volume=16 |issue=6 |pages=761–8 |year=2006 |pmid=17079131 |doi=10.1016/] [cite journal |author=Gettins P |title=Serpin structure, mechanism, and function |journal=Chem Rev |volume=102 |issue=12 |pages=4751–804 |year=2002 |pmid=12475206 |doi=10.1021/cr010170 |doi_brokendate=2008-06-21] [cite journal |author=Whisstock JC, Skinner R, Carrell RW, Lesk AM |title=Conformational changes in serpins: I. The native and cleaved conformations of alpha(1)-antitrypsin |journal=J Mol Biol. |year=2000 |volume=296 |pmid=10669617 |pages=685–99 |doi=10.1006/jmbi.1999.3520] During this structural transition the RCL inserts into β-sheet A (in red in figure 3 and 4) and forms an extra (fourth) β-strand. The serpin conformational change is key to the mechanism of inhibition of target proteases.

When attacking a substrate, serine proteases catalyze peptide bond cleavage in a two-step process. Initially, the catalytic serine performs a nucleophilic attack on the peptide bond of the substrate (Figure 3). This releases the new N-terminus and forms an ester-bond between the enzyme and the substrate. This covalent enzyme-substrate complex is called an acyl enzyme intermediate. Subsequently, this ester bond is hydrolysed and the new C-terminus is released. The RCL of a serpin acts as a substrate for its cognate protease. However, after the RCL is cleaved, but prior to hydrolysis of the acyl-enzyme intermediate, the serpin rapidly undergoes the S to R transition. Since the RCL is still covalently attached to the protease via the ester bond, the S to R transition causes the protease to be moved from the top to the bottom of the serpin. At the same time, the protease is distorted into a conformation where the acyl enzyme intermediate is hydrolysed extremely slowly.cite journal |author=Huntington J, Read R, Carrell R |title=Structure of a serpin-protease complex shows inhibition by deformation |journal=Nature |volume=407 |issue=6806 |pages=923–6 |year=2000 |pmid=11057674 |doi=10.1038/35038119] The protease thus remains covalently attached to the target protease and is thereby inhibited. Further, since the serpin has to be cleaved to inhibit the target protases, inhibition consumes the serpin as well. Serpins are therefore irreversible enzyme inhibitors. The serpin mechanism of inhibition is illustrated in figure 4 and several movies illustrating the serpin mechanism can be seen at [ this link] .

Conformational modulation of serpin activity

The conformational mobility of serpins provides a key advantage over static lock and key protease inhibitors. In particular, the function of inhibitory serpins can be readily controlled by specific cofactors. The X-ray crystal structures of antithrombin, heparin cofactor II, MENT and murine antichymotrypsin reveal that these serpins adopt a conformation where the first two amino acids of the RCL are inserted into the top of the A β-sheet (see figures 3 and 6). The partially inserted conformation is important because co-factors are able to conformationally switch partially inserted serpins into a fully expelled form. [cite journal |author=Jin L, Abrahams JP, Skinner R, Petitou M, Pike RN, Carrell RW. |title=The anticoagulant activation of antithrombin by heparin |journal=Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. |year=1997 |volume=94 |pmid=9405673 |pages=14683–8 |doi=10.1073/pnas.94.26.14683] [cite journal |author=Whisstock JC, Pike RN, Jin L, Skinner R, Pei XY, Carrell RW, Lesk AM. |title=Conformational changes in serpins: II. The mechanism of activation of antithrombin by heparin |journal=J Mol Biol. |year=2000 |volume=301 |pmid=10966821 |pages=1287–305 |doi=10.1006/jmbi.2000.3982] This conformational rearrangement makes the serpin a more effective inhibitor.

The archetypal example of this situation is antithrombin, which circulates in plasma in a partially inserted relatively inactive state. The primary specificity determining residue (the P1 Arginine) points towards the body of the serpin and is unavailable to the protease (Figure 4). Upon binding a high affinity heparin pentasaccharide sequence within long chain heparin, antithrombin undergoes a conformational change, RCL expulsion and exposure of the P1 Arginine. The heparin pentasaccharide bound form of antithrombin is thus a more effective inhibitor of thrombin and factor Xa (figure 6). [cite journal |author=Li W, Johnson DJ, Esmon CT, Huntington JA |title=Structure of the antithrombin-thrombin-heparin ternary complex reveals the antithrombotic mechanism of heparin |journal=Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. |volume=11 |issue=9 |pages=857–62 |year=2004 |pmid=15311269 |doi=10.1038/nsmb811] [cite journal |author=Johnson DJ, Li W, Adams TE, Huntington JA |title=Antithrombin-S195A factor Xa-heparin structure reveals the allosteric mechanism of antithrombin activation |journal=EMBO J. |volume=25 |issue=9 |pages=2029–37 |year=2006 |pmid=16619025 |doi=10.1038/sj.emboj.7601089] Furthermore, both of these coagulation proteases contain binding sites (called exosites) for heparin. Heparin therefore also acts as a template for binding of both protease and serpin, further dramatically accelerating the interaction between the two parties (Figure 4). After the initial interaction, the final serpin complex is formed and the heparin moiety is released. This interaction is physiologically important. For example, after injury to the blood vessel wall heparin is exposed, and antithrombin is thus activated to control the clotting response. The understanding of the molecular basis of this interaction formed the basis of the development of Fondaparinux, a synthetic form of Heparin pentasaccharide used as an anti-clotting drug. [cite journal |author=Petitou M, van Boeckel CA |title=A synthetic antithrombin III binding pentasaccharide is now a drug! What comes next? |journal=Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. |volume=43 |issue=24 |pages=3118–33 |year=2004 |pmid=15199558 |doi=10.1002/anie.200300640]

Certain serpins spontaneously undergo the S to R transition as part of their function, to form a conformation termed the latent state (Figure 7). In latent serpins the first strand of the C-sheet has to peel off to allow full RCL insertion. Latent serpins are unable to interact with proteases and are not protease inhibitors. The transition to latency represents a control mechanism for the serpin PAI-1. PAI-1 is released in the inhibitory conformation, however, undergoes conformational change to the latent state unless it is bound to the cofactor vitronectin. [cite journal |author=Lindahl T, Sigurdardottir O, Wiman B |title=Stability of plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) |journal=Thromb Haemost |volume=62 |issue=2 |pages=748–51 |year=1989 |pmid=2479113] Thus PAI-1 contains an "auto-inactivation" mechanism. Similarly, antithrombin can also spontaneously convert to the latent state as part of its normal function. Finally, the N-terminus of tengpin (see pdbs [ 2PEE] and [ 2PEF] ), a serpin from "Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis", is required to lock the molecule in the native inhibitory state. Disruption of interactions made by the N-terminal region results in spontaneous conformational change of this serpin to the latent conformation. [cite journal |author=Zhang Q, Buckle AM, Law RH, Pearce MC, Cabrita LD, Lloyd GJ, Irving JA, Smith AI, Ruzyla K, Rossjohn J, Bottomley SP, Whisstock JC. |title=The N terminus of the serpin, tengpin, functions to trap the metastable native state |journal=EMBO Rep. |year=2007 |pmid=17557112 |doi=10.1038/sj.embor.7400986 |volume=8 |pages=658]

erpin receptor interactions

In humans, extracellular serpin-enzyme complexes are rapidly cleared from circulation. One mechanism by which this occurs is the low density lipoprotein receptor related protein (LRP receptor), which binds to inhibitory complexes made by antithrombin, PA1-1 and neuroserpin, causing uptake and subsequent signalling events. Thus, as a consequence of the conformational change during serpin-enzyme complex formation, serpins may act as signalling molecules that alert cells to the presence of protease activity.cite journal |author=Cao C, Lawrence DA, Li Y, Von Arnim CA, Herz J, Su EJ, Makarova A, Hyman BT, Strickland DK, Zhang L. |title=Endocytic receptor LRP together with tPA and PAI-1 coordinates Mac-1-dependent macrophage migration |journal=EMBO J. |year=2006 |volume=25 |issue=9 |pmid=16601674 |pages=1860–70 |doi=10.1038/sj.emboj.7601082] The fate of intracellular serpin-enzyme complexes remains to be characterised.

Conformational change and non-inhibitory function

Certain non-inhibitory serpins also use the serpin conformational change as part of their function. For example the native (S) form of thyroxine-binding globulin has high affinity for thyroxine, whereas the cleaved (R) form has low affinity. Similarly, native (S) Cortisol Binding Globulin (CBG) has higher affinity for cortisol than its cleaved (R) counterpart (Figure 1). Thus, in these serpins, RCL cleavage and the S to R transition has been commandeered to allow for ligand release, rather than protease inhibition. [cite journal |author=Pemberton PA, Stein PE, Pepys MB, Potter JM, Carrell RW |title=Hormone binding globulins undergo serpin conformational change in inflammation |journal=Nature. |year=1988 |volume=336 |issue=6196 |pmid= 3143075 |pages=257–8 |doi=10.1038/336257a0] cite journal | author=Zhou A, Wei Z, Read RJ, Carrell RW. |title=Structural mechanism for the carriage and release of thyroxine in the blood |journal= Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. |volume=103 issue=36 |pages=13321–6. |year=2006 |pmid=16938877 |doi=10.1073/pnas.0604080103]

erpins, serpinopathies and human disease

The complexity of the serpin mechanism renders these molecules vulnerable to inactivating mutations that promote inappropriate conformational change (or misfolding) and diseases ("serpinopathies"). Well characterised serpinopathies include alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency (alpha-1), which may cause familial emphysema and sometimes liver cirrhosis, certain familial forms of thrombosis related to antithrombin deficiency, types 1 and 2 hereditary angioedema (HAE) related to deficiency of C1-inhibitor and familial encephalopathy with neuroserpin inclusion bodies (FENIB; a rare type of dementia caused by neuroserpin polymerisation). Serpins thus belong to a large group of molecules such as the prion proteins and the glutamine repeat containing proteins that are susceptible to misfolding, causing conformational disease.cite journal |author=Carrell RW, Lomas DA. |title=Conformational disease |journal=Lancet. |year=1997 |volume=350 |issue=9071 |pmid=9228977 |pages=134–8 |doi=10.1016/S0140-6736(97)02073-4]

The ability to map the mutations in serpins that cause serpinopathies onto a structural framework aided understanding of the mechanism of normal serpin conformational changes, as well as serpin dysfunction.cite journal |author=Stein PE, Carrell RW. |title=What do dysfunctional serpins tell us about molecular mobility and disease? |journal=Nat Struct Biol. |year=1995 |volume=2 |pmid=7749926 |pages=96–113. |doi=10.1038/nsb0295-96] In particular, many serpin mutations that cause disease localise to two distinct regions of the molecule (highlighted in figure 1a) termed the shutter and the breach. The shutter and the breach contain highly-conserved residues and underlie the path of RCL insertion.

Serpin misfolding results in two common outcomes, both of which stem from the instability of the native (S) conformation. Firstly, pathogenic mutations in serpins can promote inappropriate transition to the monmoeric latent state. This causes disease because it reduces the amount of active inhibitory serpin. For example, the disease-linked antithrombin variants "wibble" and "wobble", [cite journal |author=Beauchamp NJ, Pike RN, Daly M, Butler L, Makris M, Dafforn TR, Zhou A, Fitton HL, Preston FE, Peake IR, Carrell RW |title=Antithrombins Wibble and Wobble (T85M/K): archetypal conformational diseases with "in vivo" latent-transition, thrombosis, and heparin activation |journal= Blood |volume=92 |issue=8 |pages=2696–706 |year=1998 |pmid=9763552] both promote formation of the latent state.

Secondly, and more insidiously, mutations in serpins may cause polymerisation. While the X-ray crystal structure of an intact serpin polymer remains to be determined, much biochemical, biophysical and structural data suggest that serpins "domain swap" with one another and form long-chain polymers.cite journal |author=Lomas DA, Evans DL, Finch JT & Carrell RW |title=The mechanism of Z alpha 1-antitrypsin accumulation in the liver |journal=Nature |volume=357 |pages=605–607 |year=1992 |pmid=1608473 |doi=10.1038/357605a0] [cite journal |author=Huntington JA, Pannu NS, Hazes B, Read RJ, Lomas DA & Carrell RW |title=A 2.6 Å structure of a serpin polymer and implications for conformational disease |journal=J Mol Biol |volume=293 |pages=449–455 |year=1999 |pmid=10543942 |doi=10.1006/jmbi.1999.3184] [cite journal |author=Dunstone MA, Dai W, Whisstock JC, Rossjohn J, Pike RN, Feil SC, Le Bonniec BF, Parker MW & Bottomley SP |title=Cleaved antitrypsin polymers at atomic resolution |journal=Protein Sci |volume=9 |pages=417–420 |year=2000 |pmid=10716194] This may occur by a RCL of one serpin inserting into the A-sheet of another serpin, to form a chain, rather than inserting into its "own" A-sheet (see figure 8a for a model). The polymeric form is inactive and causes pathology. Serpin polymerisation causes disease in two ways. Firstly, the lack of active serpin results in uncontrolled protease activity and tissue destruction, this is seen in the case of antitrypsin deficiency. Secondly, the polymers themselves clog up the endoplasmic reticulum of cells that synthesize serpins, eventually resulting in cell death and tissue damage. In the case of antitrypsin deficiency, antitrypsin polymers cause the death of liver cells, eventually resulting in liver damage and cirrhosis.


Finally, it is worth highlighting a structure of a disease-linked human antichymotrypsin variant that demonstrates the extraordinary flexibility of the serpin scaffold. The structure of antichymotrypsin (Leucine 55 to Proline) revealed a novel "delta" conformation that may represent an intermediate between the native and latent state (Figure 8b). In the delta conformation four residues of the RCL are inserted into the top of β-sheet A. The bottom half of the sheet is filled as a result of one of the α-helices (the F-helix) partially switching to a strand-like conformation, completing the β-sheet hydrogen bonding. It is unclear whether other serpins can adopt this conformer, or whether this conformation has a functional role. However, this conformation may be important for thyroxine release by Thyroxine binding globulin.

Other mechanisms of serpin-related disease

In humans, simple deficiency of many serpins (e.g. through a null mutation) may result in disease (see Table 1).

Rarely, single amino acid changes in the RCL of a serpin alters the specificity of the inhibitor and allow it to target the wrong protease. For example, the Antitrypsin-Pittsburgh mutation (methionine 358 to arginine) allowed the serpin to inhibit thrombin, thus causing a bleeding disorder. [cite journal |author=Owen MC, Brennan SO, Lewis JH, Carrell RW. |title=Mutation of antitrypsin to antithrombin. alpha 1-antitrypsin Pittsburgh (358 Met leads to Arg), a fatal bleeding disorder |journal=N Engl J Med. |year=1983 |volume=309 |issue=12 |pmid=6604220 |pages=694–8]

Serpins are suicide inhibitors, the RCL acting as a "bait". Certain disease-linked mutations in the RCL of human serpins permit true substrate-like behaviour and cleavage "without" complex formation. Such variants are speculated to affect the rate or the extent of RCL insertion into the A-sheet. These mutations effectively result in serpin deficiency through a failure to properly control the target protease. [cite journal | author=Hopkins PC, Carrell RW, Stone SR. |title=Effects of mutations in the hinge region of serpins |journal=Biochemistry. |year=1993 |volume=32 |issue=30 |pmid=8347575 |pages=7650–7 |doi=10.1021/bi00081a008]

Several non-inhibitory serpins play key roles in important human diseases. Most notably, maspin functions as a tumour suppressor in breast and prostate cancer. The mechanism of maspin function remains to be fully understood. Murine knockouts of maspin are lethal; these data suggest that maspin plays a key role in development.cite journal |author=Gao F, Shi H, Daughty C, Cella N, Zhang M |title=Maspin plays an essential role in early embryonic development |journal=Development |volume=131 |issue=7 |pages=1479–89 |year=2004 |pmid=14985257 |doi=10.1242/dev.01048]


Serpins were initially believed to be restricted to eukaryote organisms, but have since been found in a number of bacteria and archaea.cite journal |author=Irving J, Steenbakkers P, Lesk A, Op den Camp H, Pike R, Whisstock J |title=Serpins in prokaryotes |journal=Mol Biol Evol |volume=19 |issue=11 |pages=1881–90 |year=2002 |pmid=12411597] [cite journal |author=Cabrita LD, Irving JA, Pearce MC, Whisstock JC, Bottomley SP. |title=Aeropin from the extremophile Pyrobaculum aerophilum bypasses the serpin misfolding trap |journal=J Biol Chem. |year=2007 |pmid= 17635906 |doi=10.1074/jbc.M705020200 |volume=282 |pages=26802] It remains unclear whether these prokaryote genes are the descendants of an ancestral prokaryotic serpin or whether they are the product of lateral gene transfer (genetic transfer between organisms not by evolutionary descent). Rawlings et al., showed that serpins are the most widely distributed and largest family of protease inhibitors.

Types of serpin

Human serpins

In 2001, a serpin nomenclature was established (see table 1, below).cite journal |author=Silverman GA, Bird PI, Carrell RW, Church FC, Coughlin PB, Gettins PG, Irving JA, Lomas DA, Luke CJ, Moyer RW, Pemberton PA, Remold-O'Donnell E, Salvesen GS, Travis J, Whisstock JC. |title='The serpins are an expanding superfamily of structurally similar but functionally diverse proteins. Evolution, mechanism of inhibition, novel functions, and a revised nomenclature |journal= J Biol Chem |volume=276 |year=2001 |pmid=11435447 |pages=33293–6 |doi=10.1074/jbc.R100016200] The naming system is based upon a phylogenetic analysis of ~500 serpins.cite journal | author=Irving JA, Pike RN, Lesk AM, Whisstock. |title=Phylogeny of the Serpin Superfamily: Implications of Patterns of Amino Acid Conservation for Structure and Function|journal=Genome Res. |volume=10 |pages=1845–64 |year=2000 |pmid=11116082 |doi=10.1101/gr.GR-1478R] The human genome encodes 16 serpin clades, termed serpinA through to serpinP, encoding 29 inhibitory and 7 non-inhibitory serpin proteins (see Law et al. (2006) for a recent review).cite journal |author=Law RH, Zhang Q, McGowan S, Buckle AM, Silverman GA, Wong W, Rosado CJ, Langendorf CG, Pike RN, Bird PI, Whisstock JC | title=An overview of the serpin superfamily | journal=Genome Biol. | volume=7 | issue=5 | year=2006 | pmid=16737556 | pages=216 | doi=10.1186/gb-2006-7-5-216] The proteins are named serpinXY where X is the clade of the protein and Y the number of the protein within that clade. Table 1 lists each human serpin, together with brief notes in regards to each molecules function and the consequence (where known) of dysfunction or deficiency.

Table 1

Insect Serpins

The Drosophila melanogaster genome contains 29 serpin encoding genes. Amino acid sequence analysis has placed 14 of these serpins in serpin clade Q and 3 in serpin clade K with the remaining 12 serpins classified as orphan serpins not belonging to any clade.cite journal |author=Reichhart JM. |title=Tip of another iceberg: Drosophila serpins |journal=Trends Cell Biol. |volume=15 |issue=12 |pages=659–665 |year=2005 |pmid=16260136 |doi=] The clade classification system is difficult to use for Drosophila serpins and instead a nomenclature system has been adopted that is based on the position of Drosphila serpin genes on the Drosophila chromosomes. 13 of the Drosophila serpins occur as isolated genes in the genome (including Serpin-27A, see below), with the remaining 16 organised into three gene clusters that occur at chromosome positions 28D (2 serpins), 42D (5 serpins), 43A (4 serpins), 77B (3 serpins) and 88E (2 serpin).

Drosophila serpin-27A

Studies on Drosophila serpins reveal that Serpin-27A inhibits the Easter protease (the final protease in the Nudel, Gastrulation Defective, Snake and Easter proteolytic cascade) and thus controls dorsoventral patterning. Easter functions to cleave Spätzle (a chemokine-type ligand), which results in toll mediated signaling. In addition to its central role in embryonic patterning, toll signalling is also important for the innate immune response in insects. Accordingly, serpin-27A additionally functions to control the insect immune response. [cite journal |author=Rushlow C |title=Dorsoventral patterning: a serpin pinned down at last |journal=Curr. Biol. |volume=14 |issue=1 |pages=R16–8 |year=2004 |pmid=14711428 |doi=10.1016/j.cub.2003.12.015] [cite journal |author=Ligoxygakis P, Roth S, Reichhart JM |title=A serpin regulates dorsal-ventral axis formation in the Drosophila embryo |journal=Curr. Biol. |volume=13 |issue=23 |pages=2097–102 |year=2003 |pmid=14654000 |doi=] [cite journal |author=Hashimoto C, Kim DR, Weiss LA, Miller JW, Morisato D |title=Spatial regulation of developmental signaling by a serpin |journal=Dev. Cell |volume=5 |issue=6 |pages=945–50 |year=2003 |pmid=14667416 |doi=]

Worm Serpins

The genome of the nematode worm "C. elegans" contains nine serpins, however, only five of these molecules appear to function as protease inhibitors. One of these serpins, SRP-6, has been shown to perform a protective function and guard against stress induced calpain-associated lysosomal disruption. Further SRP-6 functions to inhibit lysosomal cysteine proteases released after lysosomal rupture. Accordingly, worms lacking SRP-6 are sensitive to stress. Most notably, SRP-6 knockout worms die when placed in water (the hypo-osmotic stress lethal phenotype or Osl). Based on these data it is suggested that lysosomes play a general and controllable role in determining cell fate. [cite journal |author=Cliff J. Luke, Stephen C. Pak, Yuko S. Askew, Terra L. Naviglia, David J. Askew, Shila M. Nobar, Anne C. Vetica, Olivia S. Long, Simon C. Watkins, Donna B. Stolz, Robert J. Barstead, Gary L. Moulder, Dieter Brömme, and Gary A. Silverman |title=An Intracellular Serpin Regulates Necrosis by Inhibiting the Induction and Sequelae of Lysosomal Injury |journal=Cell |volume=130 |year=2007 |doi=10.1016/j.cell.2007.07.013 |pages=1108–1119]

Plant serpins

The presence of serpins in plants has long been recognised - indeed, barley Z serpin is the major protein component in beer. The genome sequence of "Arabidopsis thaliana" is predicted to encode 29 serpins. Plant serpins are able to inhibit serine proteases "in vitro". However, the absence of close relatives of chymotrypsin-like proteases in plants suggests that these molecules may instead perform an alternative function. Indeed, Arabidopsis serpin1 inhibits metacaspase-like proteases "in vivo" and may control cell death pathways. [cite journal |author=Vercammen D, Belenghi B, van de Cotte B, Beunens T, Gavigan JA, De Rycke R, Brackenier A, Inze D, Harris JL, Van Breusegem F. |title=Serpin1 of Arabidopsis thaliana is a suicide inhibitor for metacaspase 9 |journal=J Mol Biol. |volume=364 |issue=4 |year=2006 |pmid=17028019 |pages=625–36 |doi=10.1016/j.jmb.2006.09.010]

Fungal serpins

A single fungal serpin has been characterized to date: celpin from " Piromyces" sp. strain E2. "Piromyces" is an anaerobic fungus found in the gut of ruminants and is important for digesting plant material. Celpin is predicted to be an inhibitory molecule and contains two N-terminal dockerin domains in addition to the serpin domain. Dockerins are commonly found in proteins that localise to the fungal cellulosome, a large extracellular mulitprotein complex that breaks down cellulose. It is therefore suggested that celpin protects the cellulosome against plant proteases. Interestingly certain bacterial serpins also localize to the cellulosome .

Prokaryote serpins

Predicted serpin genes are sporadicly distributed in prokaryotes. "In vitro" studies on some of these moelcules have revealed that they are able to inhibit proteases and it is suggested that they function as inhibitors "in vivo". Interestingly, several prokaryote serpins are found in extremophiles. Accordingly, and in contrast to mammalian serpins, these molecule possess elevated resistance to heat denaturation. [cite journal |author=Irving JA, Cabrita LD, Rossjohn J, Pike RN, Bottomley SP, Whisstock JC |title=The 1.5 A crystal structure of a prokaryote serpin: controlling conformational change in a heated environment |journal=Structure. |volume=11 |issue=4 |year=2003 |pmid=12679017 |pages=387–97. |doi=10.1016/S0969-2126(03)00057-1] [cite journal |author=Fulton KF, Buckle AM, Cabrita LD, Irving JA, Butcher RE, Smith I, Reeve S, Lesk AM, Bottomley SP, Rossjohn J, Whisstock JC. |title=The high resolution crystal structure of a native thermostable serpin reveals the complex mechanism underpinning the stressed to relaxed transition |journal=J Biol Chem. |year=2005 |volume=280 |issue=9 |pmid=15590653 |pages=8435–42 |doi=10.1074/jbc.M410206200] The precise role of most bacterial serpins remains obscure, however, " Clostridium thermocellum" serpin localises to the cellulosome. It is suggested that the role of cellulosome-associated serpins may be to prevent unwanted protease activity against the cellulosome.cite journal |author=Kang S, Barak Y, Lamed R, Bayer EA, Morrison M. |title=The functional repertoire of prokaryote cellulosomes includes the serpin superfamily of serine proteinase inhibitors |journal=Mol Microbiol. |volume=60 |issue=6 |year=2006 |pmid=16796673 |pages=1344–54 |doi=10.1111/j.1365-2958.2006.05182.x]

Viral serpins

Serpins are also expressed by viruses as a way to evade the host's immune defense.cite journal |author=Turner PC, Moyer RW |title=Poxvirus immune modulators: functional insights from animal models |journal=Virus Res. |volume=88 |issue=1-2 |pages=35–53 |year=2002 |pmid=12297326 |doi=] In particular, serpins expressed by pox viruses, including cow pox (vaccinia) and rabbit pox (myxoma), are of interest because of their potential use as novel therapeutics for immune and inflammatory disorders as well as transplant therapy. cite journal |author=Richardson J, Viswanathan K, Lucas A |title=Serpins, the vasculature, and viral therapeutics |journal=Front. Biosci. |volume=11 |issue= |pages=1042–56 |year=2006 |pmid=16146796 |doi=] cite journal |author=Jiang J, Arp J, Kubelik D, Zassoko R, Liu W, Wise Y, Macaulay C, Garcia B, McFadden G, Lucas AR, Wang H |title=Induction of indefinite cardiac allograft survival correlates with toll-like receptor 2 and 4 downregulation after serine protease inhibitor-1 (Serp-1) treatment |journal=Transplantation |volume=84 |issue=9 |pages=1158–67 |year=2007 |pmid=17998872 |doi=10.1097/ |doi_brokendate=2008-06-21] A study on Serp1 reveals this molecule suppresses the Toll-mediated innate immune response and allows indefinite cardiac allograft survival in rats. cite journal |author=Dai E, Guan H, Liu L, Little S, McFadden G, Vaziri S, Cao H, Ivanova IA, Bocksch L, Lucas A |title=Serp-1, a viral anti-inflammatory serpin, regulates cellular serine proteinase and serpin responses to vascular injury |journal=J. Biol. Chem. |volume=278 |issue=20 |pages=18563–72 |year=2003 |pmid=12637546 |doi=10.1074/jbc.M209683200] Studies on Crma and Serp2, reveal both are cross-class inhibitor and targets both serine (Granzyme B; albeit weakly) and cysteine proteases (Caspase 1 and Caspase 8).cite journal |author=Turner PC, Sancho MC, Thoennes SR, Caputo A, Bleackley RC, Moyer RW |title=Myxoma virus Serp2 is a weak inhibitor of granzyme B and interleukin-1beta-converting enzyme in vitro and unlike CrmA cannot block apoptosis in cowpox virus-infected cells |journal=J. Virol. |volume=73 |issue=8 |pages=6394–404 |year=1999 |pmid=10400732 |doi=] cite journal |author=Munuswamy-Ramanujam G, Khan KA, Lucas AR |title=Viral anti-inflammatory reagents: the potential for treatment of arthritic and vasculitic disorders |journal=Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets |volume=6 |issue=4 |pages=331–43 |year=2006 |pmid=17214579 |doi=] In comparison to their mammalian counterparts, viral serpins contain significant deletions of elements of secondary structure. Specifically, structural studies on crmA reveals this molecule lacks the D-helix as well as significant portions of the A- and E-helices.cite journal |author=Renatus M, Zhou Q, Stennicke HR, Snipas SJ, Turk D, Bankston LA, Liddington RC, Salvesen GS |title=Crystal structure of the apoptotic suppressor CrmA in its cleaved form |journal=Structure |volume=8 |issue=7 |pages=789–97 |year=2000 |pmid=10903953 |doi=]

ee also

* Proteopathy
*Familial encephalopathy with neuroserpin inclusion bodies


External links

* [ James Whisstock laboratory] at Monash University
* [ Jim Huntington serpin laboratory] at University of Cambridge
* [ Frank Church serpin group] at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
* [ Paul Declerck serpin group] at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
* [ Merops general protease / inhibitor classification page] at University of Cambridge
* [ The alpha one foundation provides information and support for sufferers of antitrypsin deficiency]

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