Cathepsin B has been implicated in numerous pathobiological processes. In order to study its interactions with other proteins implicated in these processes, quantities of functional recombinant cathepsin B are needed. Therefore, we expressed recombinant human procathepsin B in mammalian cells (BSC-1 monkey kidney cells and HeLa human cervical carcinoma cells) using a vaccinia virus expression system. The recombinant human procathepsin B appeared to be authentic and expressed in its native conformation as indicated by: (1) N-terminal sequencing; (2) molecular size; (3) processing intracellularly to mature double-chain cathepsin B; (4) in vitro cleavage by pepsin to mature cathepsin B coincident with appearance of activity against a selective synthetic substrate; and (5) substrate/inhibitor profiles. This is the first report of the expression of functional recombinant human procathepsin B in mammalian cells. We also report a single-step immunoaffinity purification procedure for the isolation of electrophoretically pure proenzyme. By the methodologies described, human procathepsin B can now be obtained in high yield. This should facilitate studies of its interactions with protease inhibitors, other proteases, extracellular matrices, cell-surface proteins and biological substrates that may be of relevance to the pathobiological functions of this enzyme.

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