Inactivators of cysteine endopeptidases were tested as inhibitors of the cytokine-stimulated release of proteoglycan from cartilage. The test system consisted of bovine nasal septum cartilage maintained in organ culture, and the stimulus was provided by recombinant human interleukin 1 alpha. L-3-Carboxy-2,3-trans-epoxypropionyl-leucylamido-(4-guanidin o)butane (E64) and L-3-carboxy-2,3-trans-epoxypropionyl-leucylamido-(3-methyl)b utane (Ep475) showed no inhibition at concentrations up to 100 microM. In contrast, trans-epoxysuccinyl-leucylamido-(3-methyl)butane ethyl ester (Ep453), a ‘prodrug’ of Ep475, was an effective inhibitor. The LL-, LD- and DL-isomers gave significant inhibition at 10 microM, and the DD-isomer was inhibitory at 100 microM. None of the isomers had any detectable effect on protein synthesis or glycolysis, and their inhibitory effects were reversible. Iodoacetate inhibited proteoglycan release by a general toxic effect. Our results suggest that cysteine endopeptidase(s) play a part in cytokine-stimulated cartilage breakdown, but that effective inhibitors must pass through membranes.

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