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1.  HOW IMMUNE PEPTIDASES CHANGE SPECIFICITY 
Cathepsin G is a major secreted serine peptidase of neutrophils and mast cells. Studies in Ctsg-null mice suggest that cathepsin G supports antimicrobial defenses but can injure host tissues. The human enzyme has unusual “Janus-faced” ability to cleave peptides at basic (tryptic) as well as aromatic (chymotryptic) sites. Tryptic activity has been attributed to acidic Glu226 in the primary specificity pocket and underlies proposed important functions such as activation of pro-urokinase. However, most mammals, including mice, substitute Ala for Glu226, suggesting that human tryptic activity may be anomalous. To test this hypothesis, human cathepsin G was compared with mouse wild type and humanized active site mutants, revealing that mouse primary specificity is markedly narrower than that of human cathepsin G, with much greater Tyr activity and selectivity and near absence of tryptic activity. It also differs from human in resisting tryptic peptidase inhibitors (e.g., aprotinin), while favoring angiotensin destruction at Tyr4 over activation at Phe8. Ala226Glu mutants of mouse cathepsin G acquire tryptic activity and human ability to activate pro-urokinase. Phylogenetic analysis reveals that the Ala226Glu missense mutation appearing in primates 31–43 million years ago represented an apparently unprecedented way to create tryptic activity in a serine peptidase. We propose that tryptic activity is not an attribute of ancestral mammalian cathepsin G, which was primarily chymotryptic, and that primate-selective broadening of specificity opposed the general trend of increased specialization by immune peptidases and allowed acquisition of new functions.
doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1002292
PMCID: PMC3954857  PMID: 20889553
2.  The αvβ6 integrin modulates airway hyperresponsiveness in mice by regulating intraepithelial mast cells 
Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, affecting more than 10 million Americans. Although it is clear that mast cells have a key role in the pathogenesis of allergic asthma, the mechanisms by which they regulate airway narrowing in vivo remain to be elucidated. Here we report that mice lacking αvβ6 integrin are protected from exaggerated airway narrowing in a model of allergic asthma. Expression microarrays of the airway epithelium revealed mast cell proteases among the most prominent differentially expressed genes, with expression of mouse mast cell protease 1 (mMCP-1) induced by allergen challenge in WT mice and expression of mMCP-4, -5, and -6 increased at baseline in β6-deficient mice. These findings were most likely explained by loss of TGF-β activation, since the epithelial integrin αvβ6 is a critical activator of latent TGF-β, and in vitro–differentiated mast cells showed TGF-β–dependent expression of mMCP-1 and suppression of mMCP-4 and -6. In vitro, mMCP-1 increased contractility of murine tracheal rings, an effect that depended on intact airway epithelium, whereas mMCP-4 inhibited IL-13–induced epithelial-independent enhancement of contractility. These results suggest that intraepithelial activation of TGF-β by the αvβ6 integrin regulates airway responsiveness by modulating mast cell protease expression and that these proteases and their proteolytic substrates could be novel targets for improved treatment of allergic asthma.
doi:10.1172/JCI58815
PMCID: PMC3266785  PMID: 22232213
3.  α2-Macroglobulin Capture Allows Detection of Mast Cell Chymase in Serum and Creates a Circulating Reservoir of Angiotensin II-generating Activity1 
Human chymase is a highly efficient angiotensin II-generating serine peptidase expressed by the MCTC subset of mast cells. When secreted from degranulating cells, it can interact with a variety of circulating anti-peptidases, but is mostly captured by α2-macroglobulin, which sequesters peptidases in a cage-like structure that precludes interactions with large protein substrates and inhibitors, like serpins. The present work shows that α2-macroglobulin-bound chymase remains accessible to small substrates, including angiotensin I, with activity in serum that is stable with prolonged incubation. We used α2-macroglobulin capture to develop a sensitive, microtiter plate-based assay for serum chymase, assisted by a novel substrate synthesized based on results of combinatorial screening of peptide substrates. The substrate has low background hydrolysis in serum and is chymase-selective, with minimal cleavage by the chymotryptic peptidases cathepsin G and chymotrypsin. The assay detects activity in chymase-spiked serum with a threshold of ~1 pM (30 pg/ml), and reveals native chymase activity in serum of most subjects with systemic mastocytosis. α2-Macroglobulin-bound chymase generates angiotensin II in chymase-spiked serum, and appears in native serum as chymostatin-inhibited activity, which can exceed activity of captopril-sensitive angiotensin converting enzyme. These findings suggest that chymase bound to α2-macroglobulin is active, that the circulating complex is an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor-resistant reservoir of angiotensin II-generating activity, and that α2-macroglobulin capture may be exploited in assessing systemic release of secreted peptidases.
doi:10.4049/jimmunol.0900127
PMCID: PMC2756746  PMID: 19380825
4.  Ex Vivo Sputum Analysis Reveals Impairment of Protease-dependent Mucus Degradation by Plasma Proteins in Acute Asthma 
Rationale: Airway mucus plugs, composed of mucin glycoproteins mixed with plasma proteins, are an important cause of airway obstruction in acute severe asthma, and they are poorly treated with current therapies.
Objectives: To investigate mechanisms of airway mucus clearance in health and in acute severe asthma.
Methods: We collected airway mucus from patients with asthma and nonasthmatic control subjects, using sputum induction or tracheal aspiration. We used rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling and immunoblotting to characterize the physical properties of the mucus gel, the size profiles of mucins, and the degradation products of albumin in airway mucus.
Measurements and Main Results: Repeated ex vivo measures of size and entanglement of mucin polymers in airway mucus from nonasthmatic control subjects showed that the mucus gel is normally degraded by proteases and that albumin inhibits this degradation. In airway mucus collected from patients with asthma at various time points during acute asthma exacerbation, protease-driven mucus degradation was inhibited at the height of exacerbation but was restored during recovery. In immunoblots of human serum albumin digested by neutrophil elastase and in immunoblots of airway mucus, we found that albumin was a substrate of neutrophil elastase and that products of albumin degradation were abundant in airway mucus during acute asthma exacerbation.
Conclusions: Rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling of airway mucins in health and acute asthma reveal that mucin degradation is inhibited in acute asthma, and that an excess of plasma proteins present in acute asthma inhibits the degradation of mucins in a protease-dependent manner. These findings identify a novel mechanism whereby plasma exudation may impair airway mucus clearance.
doi:10.1164/rccm.200807-1056OC
PMCID: PMC2724713  PMID: 19423716
airway mucus; rheology; neutrophil elastase; plasma; asthma exacerbation
5.  Mast Cell and Neutrophil Peptidases Attack an Inactivation Segment in Hepatocyte Growth Factor to Generate NK4-like Antagonists* 
The Journal of biological chemistry  2005;281(3):1489-1494.
Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a plasminogen-like protein with an α chain linked to a trypsin-like β chain without peptidase activity. The interaction of HGF with c-met, a receptor tyrosine kinase expressed by many cells, is important in cell growth, migration, and formation of endothelial and epithelial tubes. Stimulation of c-met requires two-chain, disulfide-linked HGF. Portions of an α chain containing an N-terminal segment and four kringle domains (NK4) antagonize HGF activity. Until now, no physiological pathway for generating NK4 was known. Here we show that chymases, which are chymotryptic peptidases secreted by mast cells, hydrolyze HGF, thereby abolishing scatter factor activity while generating an NK4-like antagonist of HGF scatter factor activity. Thus, chymase interferes with HGF directly by destroying active protein and indirectly by generating an antagonist. The site of hydrolysis, Leu480, lies in the α chain on the N-terminal side of the cysteine linking the α and β chains. This site appears to be specific for HGF because chymase does not hydrolyze other plasminogen-like proteins, such as macrophage-stimulating protein and plasminogen itself. Mast cell/neutrophil cathepsin G and neutrophil elastase generate similar fragments of HGF by cleaving near the chymase site. Mast cell and neutrophil peptidases are secreted during tissue injury, infection, ischemia, and allergic inflammation, where they may oppose HGF effects on epithelial repair. Thus, HGF possesses an “inactivation segment” that serves as an Achilles' heel attacked by inflammatory proteases. This work reveals a potential physiological pathway for inactivation of HGF and generation of NK4-like antagonists.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M511154200
PMCID: PMC2271111  PMID: 16303761

Results 1-5 (5)