Background: The Fas ligand/Fas receptor (FasL/Fas) system is an important mediator of apoptosis in the immune system where the juxtaposition of cells expressing the cell-surface ligand induces the apoptotic pathway in Fas-expressing lymphocytes. The FasL/Fas system has also been shown to be involved in apoptosis in epithelial tissues, including the involuting rodent prostate. FasL can be shed through the action of an hitherto unidentified metalloproteinase to yield soluble FasL (sFasL), although the biological activity of sFasL has been disputed.
Results: Here we report that the matrix metalloproteinase matrilysin can process recombinant and cell-associated FasL to sFasL, and that matrilysin-generated sFasL was effective at inducing apoptosis in a target epithelial cell population. In the involuting mouse prostate, FasL and matrilysin colocalized to the cell surface in a restricted population of epithelial cells. Mice deficient in matrilysin demonstrated a 67% reduction in the apoptotic index in the involuting prostate compared with wild-type animals, implicating matrilysin in this FasL-mediated process.
Conclusions: The results show that a functional form of sFasL was generated by the action of the metalloproteinase matrilysin, and suggest that matrilysin cleavage of FasL is an important mediator of epithelial cell apoptosis.