Cathepsins B and L were purified from human kidney. SDS/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis demonstrated that cathepsins B and L, Mr 27000-30000, consist of disulphide-linked dimers, subunit Mr values 22000-25000 and 5000-7000. The pH optimum for the hydrolysis of methylcoumarylamide (-NHMec) substrates (see below) is approx. 6.0 for each enzyme. Km and kcat. are 252 microM and 364s-1 and 2.2 microM and 25.8 s-1 for the hydrolysis of Z-Phe-Arg-NHMec (where Z- represents benzyloxycarbonyl-) by cathepsins B and L respectively, and 184 microM and 158 s-1 for the hydrolysis of Z-Arg-Arg-NHMec by cathepsin B. A 10 min preincubation of cathepsin B (40 degrees C) or cathepsin L (30 degrees C) with E-64 (2.5 microM) results in complete inhibition. Under identical conditions Z-Phe-Phe-CHN2 (0.56 microM) completely inhibits cathepsin L but has little effect on cathepsin B. Incubation of glomerular basement membrane (GBM) with purified human kidney cathepsin L resulted in dose-dependent (10-40 nM) GBM degradation. In contrast, little degradation of GBM (less than 4.0%) was observed with cathepsin B. The pH optimum for GBM degradation by cathepsin L was 3.5. Cathepsin L was significantly more active in degrading GBM than was pancreatic elastase, trypsin or bacterial collagenase. These data suggest that cathepsin L may participate in the lysosomal degradation of GBM associated with normal GBM turnover in vivo.

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