Cathepsin B was purified from normal human liver and several human tumour tissues and partially characterized. Three forms of cathepsin B, with molecular masses of 25 kDa, 26 kDa (the two appearing as a doublet) and 30 kDa, were detected in SDS/polyacrylamide gels. The 25-26 kDa doublet was associated with the fractions from tumours and normal liver containing the highest cathepsin B activity. Cathepsin B from both sources showed similar pH optima. Both normal liver and tumour cathepsin B exhibited similar kinetics against selected synthetic substrates. At neutral pH and 24 degrees C, cathepsin B from both normal liver and tumour exhibited a lower Km and a higher kcat./Km than at pH 6.0. Their inhibitory profiles against synthetic inhibitors were also similar. Immunological studies with a monospecific antibody against the mature double-chain form of human liver cathepsin B and an antibody against a cathepsin B-derived synthetic peptide established the immunological similarity of liver and tumour enzymes. The N-terminal sequences of the 25 kDa and 26 kDa forms were identical with that of the heavy chain of the mature double-chain form of human cathepsin B, whereas the N-terminal sequence of the 30 kDa species was identical with that of the single-chain form of human cathepsin B. Treatment of the double-chain form of cathepsin B from normal liver and tumours with the endoglycosidase peptide-N4-(N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminyl)asparagine amidase converted the 26 kDa form into 25 kDa in SDS/polyacrylamide gels, suggesting that cathepsin B may exist as both glycosylated and unglycosylated forms. Our results, in contrast with those reported earlier for mouse cathepsin B, indicate that human liver and tumour cathepsin B are similar.

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