We have identified and cloned a new member of the papain family of cysteine proteinases from a human brain cDNA library. The isolated cDNA codes for a polypeptide of 334 amino acids that exhibits all of the structural features characteristic of cysteine proteinases, including the active site cysteine residue essential for peptide hydrolysis. Pairwise comparisons of this amino acid sequence with the remaining human cysteine proteinases identified to date showed a high percentage of identity (78%) with cathepsin L; the percentage of identity with all other members of the family was much lower (<40%). On the basis of these structural characteristics, we have tentatively called this novel protein cathepsin L2. The cDNA encoding the mature cathepsin L2 was expressed in Escherichia coli, and after purification, the recombinant protein was able to degrade the synthetic peptide benzyloxycarbonyl-l-phenylalanyl-l-arginine-7-amido-4-methylcoum
arin, which is commonly used as a substrate for cysteine proteinases. Cathepsin L2 proteolytic activity on this substrate was abolished by trans-epoxysuccinyl-l-leucylamido-(4-guanidino)butane, an inhibitor of cysteine proteinases, thus providing additional evidence that the isolated cDNA encodes a functional cysteine proteinase. Northern blot analysis of polyadenylated RNAs isolated from a variety of human tissues demonstrated that cathepsin L2 is predominantly expressed in the thymus and testis. This finding is in marked contrast with the wide tissue distribution of most cysteine proteinases characterized to date, including cathepsin L, and suggests that cathepsin L2 may play a specialized role in the thymus and testis. Expression analysis of cathepsin L2 in human tumors revealed a widespread expression in colorectal and breast carcinomas but not in normal colon or mammary gland or in peritumoral tissues. Cathepsin L2 was also expressed by colorectal and breast cancer cell lines as well as by some tumors of diverse origin, including ovarian and renal carcinomas. These results open the possibility that this novel enzyme may be involved in tumor processes, as already reported for other cysteine proteinases, including cathepsin L.
Supported by Grant SAF97-0258 from the Comisión Interministerial de Ciencia y Tecnología, Grant BMH4-CT96-0017 from European Union-BIOMED II, Maraton TV3 Cancer (to E. C.), and Glaxo-Wellcome, Spain. I. S. is a recipient of a fellowship from Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (Spain).