Increased levels of the physiological amino acid homocysteine (Hcy) are considered a risk factor for vascular disease. Hyperhomocysteinemia causes an intense remodelling of the extracellular matrix in arterial walls, particularly an elastolysis involving metalloproteinases. We investigated the activation of the latent elastolytic metalloproteinase proMMP-2 (72 kDa) by Hcy. Hcy was proved to exert a dual effect, activating proMMP-2 at low molar ratio (MR 10:1) and inhibiting active MMP2 at high molar ratio (MR > 1000:1). Methionine and the disulphide homocystine did not activate nor inhibit MMP-2, showing that the activation as well as the inhibition requires the thiol group to be free. The activation of proMMP-2 by Hcy is in accordance with the "cysteine-switch" mechanism, but occurs without further autoproteolysis of the enzyme molecule. In contrast with Hcy, the other physiological thiol compounds cysteine and reduced glutathione did not activate proMMP-2. These results suggest that the direct activation of proMMP2 by Hcy could be one of the mechanisms involved in the extracellular matrix deterioration in hyperhomocysteinemia-associated arteriosclerosis.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.