The cysteine proteinases synthesized by the adult stage of the trematode Fasciola hepatica were found to be a very heterogeneous group of proteins as demonstrated by one- and two-dimensional gel analyses. N-terminal amino acid sequencing indicated the presence of at least two distinct gene products among the secreted cysteine proteinases. Enzymic studies and peptide sequence analysis of the excreted/secreted cysteine proteinases suggested a close relationship to the plant thiol cathepsins and the mammalian cathepsin L subfamily. The cloning of a representative cDNA for a putative Fasciola cathepsin confirmed similarities to the cathepsin L subfamily but revealed low identity with the cathepsin-like proteinases of the related trematode, Schistosoma, nematode cathepsins and the mammalian cathepsin B subfamily. Furthermore, peptide and protein sequencing revealed the modification of certain highly conserved prolines to unusual 3-hydroxyproline derivatives. This is the first report of modified prolines in any proteinase. This finding, as well as the high activities of these cathepsins at neutral to alkaline pH values, raises a number of questions as to the physiological function of these thiol cathepsins and their interaction with host tissues.

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