Cobra cystatin, a new cysteine-proteinase inhibitor of the cystatin superfamily, was isolated from the venom of the Taiwan cobra (Naja naja atra) by affinity chromatography on S-carboxymethylpapain–Sepharose and reverse-phase chromatography. The venom contained two forms of the inhibitor, one of 11870 Da and the other of 12095 Da, as determined by MS, and pI values of 6.2 and 6.1. Cobra cystatin strongly inhibits cysteine proteinases of the papain family, but not calpain. Papain, cathepsin L, cathepsin B and cathepsin S are inhibited with Ki values of 0.19, 0.1, 2.5 and 1.2 nM respectively. The amino acid sequence of cobra cystatin shows that it is a Type 2 cystatin. The amino acid sequence is 73% identical with that of the cystatin in African-puff-adder (Bitis arietans) venom, with which it shares a unique six-residue insertion in a region opposite the reactive inhibitory site. Cobra cystatin is 25–42% identical with other Type 2 cystatins, the most closely related being the recently described human cystatin M, which also has a similar five-residue insertion starting at position 76 (chicken cystatin numbering). A molecular phylogenetic tree of 16 representative members of Family 2 cystatins was constructed by parsimony analysis; it suggests that snake cystatins, together with Tachypleus tridentatus (Japanese horseshoe crab) cystatin and human cystatin M, form a new subfamily within cystatin Family 2.
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