Macrophage elastase was purified from tissue-culture medium conditioned by inflammatory mouse peritoneal macrophages. Characterized as a secreted neutral metalloproteinase, this enzyme was shown to be catalytically and immunochemically distinct from the mouse pancreatic and mouse granulocyte elastases, both of which are serine proteinases. Inhibition profiles, production of nascent N-terminal leucine residues and sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis of degraded elastin indicated that macrophage elastase is an endopeptidase, with properties of a metalloproteinase, rather than a serine proteinase. Macrophage elastase was inhibited by alpha 2-macroglobulin, but not by alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor. Macrophage elastase was resolved into three chromatographically distinct forms. The predominant form had mol.wt. 22 000 and was purified 4100-fold. Purification of biosynthetically radiolabelled elastase indicated that this form represented less than 0.5% of the secreted protein of macrophages. Approx. 800% of the starting activity was recovered after purification. Evidence was obtained for an excess of an endogenous inhibitor masking more than 80% of the secreted activity.

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