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Biochimie. 2012 Dec;94(12):2590-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2012.07.026. Epub 2012 Aug 10.

Intra- and extracellular regulation of activity and processing of legumain by cystatin E/M.

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Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway.


Legumain, an asparaginyl endopeptidase, is up-regulated in tumour and tumour-associated cells, and is linked to the processing of cathepsin B, L, and proMMP-2. Although legumain is mainly localized to the endosomal/lysosomal compartments, legumain has been reported to be localized extracellularly in the tumour microenvironment and associated with extracellular matrix and cell surfaces. The most potent endogenous inhibitor of legumain is cystatin E/M, which is a secreted protein synthesised with an export signal. Therefore, we investigated the cellular interplay between legumain and cystatin E/M. As a cell model, HEK293 cells were transfected with legumain cDNA, cystatin E/M cDNA, or both, and over-expressing monoclonal cell lines were selected (termed M38L, M4C, and M3CL, respectively). Secretion of prolegumain from M38L cells was inhibited by treatment with brefeldin A, whereas bafilomycin A1 enhanced the secretion. Cellular processing of prolegumain to the 46 and 36 kDa enzymatically active forms was reduced by treatment with either substance alone. M38L cells showed increased, but M4C cells decreased, cathepsin L processing suggesting a crucial involvement of legumain activity. Furthermore, we observed internalization of cystatin E/M and subsequently decreased intracellular legumain activity. Also, prolegumain was shown to internalize followed by increased intracellular legumain processing and activation. In addition, in M4C cells incomplete processing of the internalized prolegumain was observed, as well as nuclear localized cystatin E/M. Furthermore, auto-activation of secreted prolegumain was inhibited by cystatin E/M, which for the first time shows a regulatory role of cystatin E/M in controlling both intra- and extracellular legumain activity.

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