PROSITE documentation PDOC00128

Eukaryotic and viral aspartyl proteases signature and profile


Aspartyl proteases, also known as acid proteases, (EC 3.4.23.-) are a widely distributed family of proteolytic enzymes [1,2,3] known to exist in vertebrates, fungi, plants, retroviruses and some plant viruses. Aspartate proteases of eukaryotes are monomeric enzymes which consist of two domains. Each domain contains an active site centered on a catalytic aspartyl residue. The two domains most probably evolved from the duplication of an ancestral gene encoding a primordial domain. Currently known eukaryotic aspartyl proteases are:

  • Vertebrate gastric pepsins A and C (also known as gastricsin).
  • Vertebrate chymosin (rennin), involved in digestion and used for making cheese.
  • Vertebrate lysosomal cathepsins D (EC and E (EC
  • Mammalian renin (EC whose function is to generate angiotensin I from angiotensinogen in the plasma.
  • Fungal proteases such as aspergillopepsin A (EC, candidapepsin (EC, mucoropepsin (EC (mucor rennin), endothiapepsin (EC, polyporopepsin (EC, and rhizopuspepsin (EC
  • Yeast saccharopepsin (EC (proteinase A) (gene PEP4). PEP4 is implicated in posttranslational regulation of vacuolar hydrolases.
  • Yeast barrierpepsin (EC (gene BAR1); a protease that cleaves α-factor and thus acts as an antagonist of the mating pheromone.
  • Fission yeast sxa1 which is involved in degrading or processing the mating pheromones.

Most retroviruses and some plant viruses, such as badnaviruses, encode for an aspartyl protease which is an homodimer of a chain of about 95 to 125 amino acids. In most retroviruses, the protease is encoded as a segment of a polyprotein which is cleaved during the maturation process of the virus. It is generally part of the pol polyprotein and, more rarely, of the gag polyprotein.

Conservation of the sequence around the two aspartates of eukaryotic aspartyl proteases and around the single active site of the viral proteases allows us to develop a single signature pattern for both groups of protease. A profile was developed to specifically detect viral aspartyl proteases, which are missed by the pattern.


These proteins belong to families A1 and A2 in the classification of peptidases [4,E1].

Last update:

December 2004 / Pattern and text revised.

Technical section

PROSITE methods (with tools and information) covered by this documentation:

ASP_PROT_RETROV, PS50175; Aspartyl protease, retroviral-type family profile  (MATRIX)

ASP_PROTEASE, PS00141; Eukaryotic and viral aspartyl proteases active site  (PATTERN)


1AuthorsFoltmann B.
TitleGastric proteinases--structure, function, evolution and mechanism of action.
SourceEssays Biochem. 17:52-84(1981).
PubMed ID6795036

2AuthorsDavies D.R.
TitleThe structure and function of the aspartic proteinases.
SourceAnnu. Rev. Biophys. Biophys. Chem. 19:189-215(1990).
PubMed ID2194475

3AuthorsRao J.K.M., Erickson J.W., Wlodawer A.
TitleStructural and evolutionary relationships between retroviral and eucaryotic aspartic proteinases.
SourceBiochemistry 30:4663-4671(1991).
PubMed ID1851433

4AuthorsRawlings N.D., Barrett A.J.
TitleFamilies of aspartic peptidases, and those of unknown catalytic mechanism.
SourceMethods Enzymol. 248:105-120(1995).
PubMed ID7674916


PROSITE is copyright. It is produced by the SIB Swiss Institute Bioinformatics. There are no restrictions on its use by non-profit institutions as long as its content is in no way modified. Usage by and for commercial entities requires a license agreement. For information about the licensing scheme send an email to
Prosite License or see: prosite_license.html.


View entry in original PROSITE document format
View entry in raw text format (no links)