Proteolytic cleavage of ricin A chain in endosomal vesicles. Evidence for the action of endosomal proteases at both neutral and acidic pH

J. S. Blum, M. L. Fiani, P. D. Stahl

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74 Scopus citations


Macrophages actively internalize macromolecules into endosomal vesicles containing proteases. The plant toxin, ricin A chain delivered into this pathway by receptor-mediated endocytosis, was found to be exquisitely sensitive to cleavage by these proteases. Proteolytic fragments of ricin A chain were generated within cells as early as 2-3 min after internalization. Toxin proteolysis was initiated in early endosomal vesicles, and transport to lysosomes was not required. As endosomes transit the cell, their lumenal pH drops from neutral to acidic. Previous studies in macrophages had suggested that endosomal proteolysis is dependent on vesicle acidification. Isolated endosomal vesicles containing ricin A chain catalyzed the cleavage of this protein in vitro; however, proteolysis was observed at both neutral and acidic pH. Experiments using isolated endosomes demonstrated that both cysteine and aspartyl proteases were responsible for the cleavage of ricin A chain. The cysteine protease, cathepsin B, catalyzed toxin proteolysis in endosomes between pH 4.5 and 7.0 while aspartyl protease activity was maximal below pH 5.5. Radiolabeling the lumenal contents of macrophage endosomes confirmed that both the cysteine protease, cathepsin B, and the aspartyl protease, cathepsin D, were present in these vesicles. These proteases were not present on the plasma membrane but were found in early endosomes indicating they are derived from an intracellular source. The presence of proteases with different pH optima in early endosomes suggests that processing in these vesicles may be regulated by changes in endosomal pH. This result represents an important difference in protein processing in endosomes versus lysosomes and provides new insights into the function of endosomal proteases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22091-22095
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number33
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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