The protein from chicken egg white that inhibits cysteine proteinases, and has been named ‘cystatin’, was purified by ovomucin precipitation, affinity chromatography on carboxymethylpapain-Sepharose and chromatofocusing. The final purification step separated two major forms of the protein (pI 6.5 and 5.6), with a total recovery of about 20% from egg white. By use of affinity chromatography and immunodiffusion it was shown that the inhibitor is also present at low concentrations in the serum of male and female chickens. Tryptic peptide maps of the separated forms 1 and 2 of egg-white cystatin were closely similar, and each form had the N-terminal sequence Ser-Glx-Asx. The two forms showed complete immunological identity, and neither contained carbohydrate. Ki values for the inhibition of cysteine proteinases were as follows: papain (less than 1 × 10(-11)M), cathepsin B (8 × 10(-10)M), cathepsin H (about 2 × 10(-8)M) and cathepsin L (about 3 × 10(-12)M). Some other cysteine proteinases, and several non-cysteine proteinases, were found not to be significantly inhibited by cystatin. The inhibition of the exopeptidase dipeptidyl peptidase I by cystatin was confirmed and the Ki found to be 2 × 10(-10)M. Inhibitor complexes with active cysteine proteinases and the inactive derivatives formed by treatment with iodoacetate, E-64 [L-trans-epoxysuccinylleucylamido(4-guanidino)butane] and benzyloxycarbonylphenylalanylalanyldiazomethane were demonstrated by isoelectric focusing and cation-exchange chromatography. The complexes dissociated in sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis (with or without reduction) with no sign of fragmentation of the inhibitor. Cystatin was found not to contain a free thiol group, and there was no indication that disulphide exchange plays any part in the mechanism of inhibition.

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