Ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like proteins (Ubl) are designed to modify polypeptides in eukaryotes. Covalent binding of ubiquitin or Ubls to substrate proteins can be reversed by specific hydrolases. One particular set of cysteine proteases, the CE clan, which targets ubiquitin and Ubls, has homologs in eukaryotes, prokaryotes, and viruses.
We have cloned and analyzed the E. coli protein elaD, which is distantly related to eukaryotic CE clan members of the ULP/SENP protease family that are specific for SUMO and Nedd8. Previously misannotated as a putative sulfatase/phosphatase, elaD is an efficient and specific deubiquitinating enzyme in vitro. Interestingly, elaD is present in all intestinal pathogenic E. coli strains, but conspicuously absent from extraintestinal pathogenic strains (ExPECs). Further homologs of this protease can be found in Acanthamoeba Polyphaga Mimivirus, and in Alpha-, Beta-and Gammaproteobacteria.
The expression of ULP/SENP-related hydrolases in bacteria therefore extends to plant pathogens and medically relevant strains of Escherichia coli, Legionella pneumophila, Rickettsiae, Chlamydiae, and Salmonellae, in which the elaD ortholog sseL has recently been identified as a virulence factor with deubiquitinating activity. As a counterpoint, our phylogenetic and functional examination reveals that ancient eukaryotic ULP/SENP proteases also have the potential of ubiquitin-specific hydrolysis, suggesting an early common origin of this peptidase clan.