Our laboratory has previously demonstrated that increased malignancy of several histological types of human and animal tumours is associated with increases in their cathepsin B activity, particularly cathepsin B activity associated with plasma-membrane/endosomal vesicles or shed vesicles. Here we report that cathepsin B from normal or tumour tissues degrades purified extracellular-matrix components, type IV collagen, laminin and fibronectin, at both acid pH and neutral pH. The number and sizes of degradation products were analysed by SDS/PAGE. Cathepsin B from both sources exhibited similar activities towards, and similar patterns of cleavage of, the extracellular-matrix proteins. At neutral pH, cathepsin B from both sources appeared to undergo autodegradation, a process that was decreased in the presence of alternative substrates such as the extracellular-matrix proteins. Cathepsin B readily degraded type IV collagen at 25 degrees C, indicating activity towards native type IV collagen. Fibronectin degradation products of 100-200 kDa and of 18 and 22 kDa were observed. A single 70 kDa fragment was released from laminin under non-reducing conditions and multiple fragments ranging from 45 to 200 kDa under reducing conditions. These results suggest that cathepsin B at or near the surface of malignant tumour cells may play a functional role in the focal dissolution of extracellular matrices.

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