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Glia. 1993 Feb;7(2):183-91.

Detection of lysosomal cysteine proteinases in microglia: flow cytometric measurement and histochemical localization of cathepsin B and L.

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Department of Neuromorphology, Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry, Martinsried, Federal Republic of Germany.


The activation and differentiation of microglia is a prominent pathophysiological process in numerous inflammatory and demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system, including Alzheimer's disease and the AIDS encephalopathy. The tissue damage during these diseases has partly been attributed to lipid peroxidating reactive oxygen intermediates for which activated microglia are a major source. The destruction of tissue may also involve the release of proteolytic enzymes, such as the lysosomal cysteine proteinases cathepsin B and L, which are present notably in phagocytic cells. The cathepsins B and L are endopeptidases with a substrate specificity including important proteins, like myelin basic protein, extracellular matrix components, or the class II major histocompatibility complex. Because of this pathophysiological relevance the cathepsins B and L were chosen for histochemical demonstration in isolated and cultured rat microglia and measurement by a new flow cytometric method. Cathepsin B/L activity was measured flow cytometrically in single viable cells by the intracellular cleavage of non-fluorescent (Z-Phe-Arg)2-rhodamine 110 to the green fluorescent monoamide Z-Phe-Arg-rhodamine 110 and rhodamine 110. In microglia we measured a cathepsin B/L activity that was 2.5 times higher than in thioglycolate-elicited, i.e., inflammatory peritoneal rat macrophages. In elicited peritoneal macrophages the formation of fluorescent product was 6.2 times higher than in unstimulated resident peritoneal macrophages, demonstrating that the activation and differentiation of mononuclear phagocytes is accompanied by an increased cathepsin B/L enzyme activity. The subcellular localization of cathepsin B/L activity in plated viable microglia was demonstrated histochemically by the use of Z-Ala-Arg-Arg-4-methoxy-2-naphthylamide. Its blue fluorescent cleavage product 4-methoxy-2-naphthylamide was found in lysosomes. Our study shows that activated microglia are an important potential source of cathepsin B/L. This is particularly interesting as enzymatically active cathepsins have recently been found extracellularly at high levels in the senile plaques of Alzheimer's disease, which are known to contain many activated microglia. The release of proteinases by microglia may play a crucial role in the pathomechanism of tissue-destructing diseases in the brain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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