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Biochem J. 2009 Dec 14;425(1):257-64. doi: 10.1042/BJ20090343.

Role of the cysteine protease interpain A of Prevotella intermedia in breakdown and release of haem from haemoglobin.

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School of Dental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Daulby Street, Liverpool L69 3GN, UK.


The gram-negative oral anaerobe Prevotella intermedia forms an iron(III) protoporphyrin IX pigment from haemoglobin. The bacterium expresses a 90 kDa cysteine protease, InpA (interpain A), a homologue of Streptococcus pyogenes streptopain (SpeB). The role of InpA in haemoglobin breakdown and haem release was investigated. At pH 7.5, InpA mediated oxidation of oxyhaemoglobin to hydroxymethaemoglobin [in which the haem iron is oxidized to the Fe(III) state and which carries OH- as the sixth co-ordinate ligand] by limited proteolysis of globin chains as indicated by SDS/PAGE and MALDI (matrix-assisted laser-desorption ionization)-TOF (time-of-flight) analysis. Prolonged incubation at pH 7.5 did not result in further haemoglobin protein breakdown, but in the formation of a haemoglobin haemichrome (where the haem Fe atom is co-ordinated by another amino acid ligand in addition to the proximal histidine residue) resistant to degradation by InpA. InpA-mediated haem release from hydroxymethaemoglobin-agarose was minimal compared with trypsin at pH 7.5. At pH 6.0, InpA increased oxidation at a rate greater than auto-oxidation, producing aquomethaemoglobin (with water as sixth co-ordinate ligand), and resulted in its complete breakdown and haem loss. Aquomethaemoglobin proteolysis and haem release was prevented by blocking haem dissociation by ligation with azide, whereas InpA proteolysis of haem-free globin was rapid, even at pH 7.5. Both oxidation of oxyhaemoglobin and breakdown of methaemoglobin by InpA were inhibited by the cysteine protease inhibitor E-64 [trans-epoxysuccinyl-L-leucylamido-(4-guanidino)butane]. In summary, we conclude that InpA may play a central role in haem acquisition by mediating oxyhaemoglobin oxidation, and by degrading aquomethaemoglobin in which haem-globin affinity is weakened under acidic conditions.

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