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Eukaryot Cell. 2007 Oct;6(10):1745-57. Epub 2007 Aug 22.

Characterization of metacaspases with trypsin-like activity and their putative role in programmed cell death in the protozoan parasite Leishmania.

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Laboratory of Bacterial, Parasitic, and Unconventional Agents, Division of Emerging and Transfusion Transmitted Diseases, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, US Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


In this report, we have characterized two metacaspases of Leishmania donovani, L. donovani metacaspase-1 (LdMC1) and LdMC2. These two proteins show 98% homology with each other, and both contain a characteristic C-terminal proline-rich domain. Both genes are transcribed in promastigotes and axenic amastigotes of L. donovani; however, LdMC1 shows increased mRNA levels in axenic amastigotes. An anti-LdMC antibody was obtained and showed reactivity with a single approximately 42-kDa protein band in both promastigote and axenic amastigote parasite whole-cell lysates by Western blotting. Pulse-chase experiments suggest that LdMCs are not synthesized as proenzymes, and immunofluorescence studies show that LdMCs are associated with the acidocalcisome compartments of L. donovani. Enzymatic assays of immunoprecipitated LdMCs show that native LdMCs efficiently cleave trypsin substrates and are unable to cleave caspase-specific substrates. Consistently, LdMC activity is insensitive to caspase inhibitors and is efficiently inhibited by trypsin inhibitors, such as leupeptin, antipain, and N(alpha)-tosyl-L-lysine-chloromethyl ketone (TLCK). In addition, our results show that LdMC activity was induced in parasites treated with hydrogen peroxide, a known trigger of programmed cell death (PCD) in Leishmania and that parasites overexpressing metacaspases are more sensitive to hydrogen peroxide-induced PCD. These findings suggest that Leishmania metacaspases are not responsible for the caspase-like activities reported in this organism and suggest a possible role for LdMCs as effector molecules in Leishmania PCD.

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