The precursor of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (proMMP-9), also known as ‘92 kDa progelatinase/type IV procollagenase’, was purified from the conditioned medium of U937 monocytic leukaemia and HT1080 fibrosarcoma cell lines stimulated with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate. ProMMP-9 in these culture media is non-covalently complexed with the 29 kDa tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP), but free proMMP-9 was separated from the TIMP-proMMP-9 complex by chromatography on Green A Dyematrex gel. The final product was homogeneous on SDS/PAGE, with a molecular mass of 88 kDa without reduction and 92 kDa with reduction. Treatment of proMMP-9 with 4-aminophenylmercuric acetate converted the 88 kDa precursor into 80 kDa and 68 kDa forms. Gelatin-containing zymographic analysis showed zones of lysis associated with all three species. However, only the 68 kDa species was shown to be catalytically active by its ability to bind to alpha 2-macroglobulin. In the presence of an equimolar amount of TIMP, only the 80 kDa species was generated by treatment with 4-aminophenylmercuric acetate, but no enzyme activity was detected. This indicates that TIMP binds to the 80 kDa intermediate and inhibits the generation of the active 68 kDa species. Eight endopeptidases (trypsin, chymotrypsin, plasmin, plasma kallikrein, thrombin, cathepsin G, neutrophil elastase and thermolysin) were tested for their ability to activate proMMP-9. Of them, trypsin was the most effective activator of proMMP-9. Only partial activation (10-30%) was observed with plasmin, cathepsin G and chymotrypsin. The active forms generated by trypsin were identified as 80 kDa, 74 kDa and 66 kDa by their abilities to bind to alpha 2-macroglobulin. In the presence of an equimolar amount of TIMP, proMMP-9 was also converted into the same molecular-mass species by trypsin, but they were not proteolytically active. This suggests activated MMP-9 is inhibited by TIMP. Activated MMP-9 digested gelatin, type-V collagen, reduced carboxymethylated transferrin and, to a lesser extent, type-IV collagen and laminin A chain. The specific activity against gelatin was estimated to be 15,000 units/mg (1 unit = 1 microgram of gelatin degraded/min at 37 degrees C) by titration with alpha 2-macroglobulin. Comparative studies on digestion of gelatin and collagen types IV and V by MMP-9 and MMP-2 indicated that both enzymes degrade these substrates into similar fragments. However, the susceptibilities of laminin, fibronectin and reduced carboxymethylated transferrin to these two MMPs were sufficiently different to indicate differences in substrate specificities between these two closely related proteinases.

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