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Biochemistry. 2017 Aug 1;56(30):3881-3884. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.7b00360. Epub 2017 Jun 28.

Taking a Bite Out of Amyloid: Mechanistic Insights into α-Synuclein Degradation by Cathepsin L.

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Laboratory of Protein Conformation and Dynamics, Biochemistry and Biophysics Center, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health , Bethesda, Maryland 20892, United States.


A common hallmark of amyloids is their resistance to an array of proteases, highlighting the difficulty in degrading these disease-related aggregated proteinaceous materials. Here, we report on the potent activity of cathepsin L (CtsL), a lysosomal protease that proteolyzes the Parkinson's disease-related amyloid formed by α-synuclein (α-syn). Using liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry and transmission electron microscopy, an elegant mechanism is revealed on the residue and ultrastructural level, respectively. Specifically, CtsL always truncates α-syn fibrils first at the C-terminus before attacking the internal β-sheet-rich region between residues 30 and 100. This suggests that only upon removal of the α-syn C-terminus can CtsL gain access to residues within the amyloid core. Interestingly, three of the four mapped sites contain a glycine residue (G36, G41, and G51) that is likely to be involved in a β-turn in the fibril, whereupon cutting would lead to solvent exposure of internal residues and allow further proteolysis. Via close inspection of the fibril morphology, products resulting from CtsL degradation show imperfections along the fibril axis, with missing protein density as though they have been cannibalized. The ability of CtsL to degrade α-syn amyloid fibrils offers a promising strategy for improving the cellular clearance of aggregated α-syn through the modulation of protease levels and activity.

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