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Arch Insect Biochem Physiol. 2000 Aug;44(4):162-71.

Proteolytic activation of canatoxin, a plant toxic protein, by insect cathepsin-like enzymes.

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Graduate Programe in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Center of Biotechnology, and Department of Biophysics, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.


Canatoxin is a protein isolated from jackbean (Canavalia ensiformis), seeds. Injected intraperitoneally, the toxin is lethal to mice but it is inactive if given orally. Canatoxin is also lethal when fed to insects with cathepsin-based digestion while insects with trypsin-based digestion are not affected. The hypothesis that canatoxin is proteolytically activated by cathepsins was investigated. Experiments were performed with 4(th) instar and adult Rhodnius prolixus fed meals containing canatoxin (2.5 microg/mg weight body). While 100% of nymphs died, no effect was observed in adults. Hemolymph taken from nymphs and adults showed the presence of canatoxin's proteolytic fragments. Reduced lethality was seen in R. prolixus 4(th) instars fed meals containing canatoxin and inhibitors of cathepsin enzymes, E-64 (2.0 microM) or Pepstatin-A (2. 0 microM). In another approach, canatoxin was digested in vitro with enzymes from the bruchid, Callosobruchus maculatus, and the resulting peptides were tested in R. prolixus. Three groups of toxic peptides (8,000-12,000 kD range) were separated by gel-filtration. When these peptides were fed to the insects simultaneously with the cathepsin inhibitors, no protective effect was seen. These results confirm the proteolytic activation of canatoxin by insect cathepsin-like enzymes to produce entomotoxic peptide(s). Furthermore, our data point towards overlooked differences in the digestive physiology of distinct life stages of R. prolixus. Arch.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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