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J Biol Chem. 2000 Dec 8;275(49):38667-73.

Schistosome invasion of human skin and degradation of dermal elastin are mediated by a single serine protease.

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Department of Pathology and the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, University of California, San Francisco, California 94121, USA.


Aquatic larvae (cercariae) of the trematode parasite Schistosoma mansoni rapidly penetrate human skin by degrading host proteins including elastin. Two serine proteases, one chymotrypsin-like and the second trypsin-like, have been proposed to be involved. To evaluate the relative roles of these two proteases in larval invasion, both were purified, identified by sequence, and then biochemically characterized. The trypsin-like activity was resolved into two distinct serine proteases 76% similar in predicted amino acid sequence. Southern blot analysis, genomic polymerase chain reaction, and immunolocalization demonstrated that the trypsin-like proteases are in fact not from the schistosome, but are released with larvae from the snail host Biomphalaria glabrata. Invasion inhibition assays using selective inhibitors confirmed that the chymotrypsin-like protease is the enzyme involved in skin penetration. Its ability to degrade skin elastin was confirmed, and the three sites of cleavage within elastin help define a new family of elastases.

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