Expression of cathepsin proteinases by mouse trophoblast in vivo and in vitro

Dev Dyn. 1999 Dec;216(4-5):374-84. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0177(199912)216:4/5<374::AID-DVDY6>3.0.CO;2-N.


Implantation and placentation in the mouse requires successful invasion of the uterine wall by primary and secondary trophoblast giant cells. Their invasive nature depends in part on the upregulation of proteinases for the phagocytosis and extracellular digestion of maternal cells and matrix materials. The work reported here studies the expression of cathepsin proteinases during secondary trophoblast differentiation, and compares the expression patterns to fully differentiated day 8.5 primary trophoblast giant cells. Cathepsins B (CB), L (CL), and D (CD) were found to be upregulated during trophoblast differentiation in vivo at the message and protein level producing expression patterns equivalent to those of primary trophoblast. Invasive trophoblast cells expressed higher levels of the processed or active forms of the enzymes, coinciding with the period of trophoblast phagocytosis of maternal blood, decidual cells, and matrix materials. Trophoblast differentiation in vitro showed a similar upregulation of cathepsin enzymes. The enzymes were localized to heterogeneous vesicles that resembled both lysosomes and heterophagic vesicles. The presence of a large lysosomal population within the giant cells was confirmed by vital staining with acridine orange. Analysis of trophoblast-conditioned media also demonstrated secreted forms of CB and CL. The results suggest that cathepsin enzymes may contribute to trophoblast invasion not only through the intracellular breakdown of molecules phagocytosed by trophoblast cells, but also by the extracellular digestion of matrix molecules and activation of other pro-enzymes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cathepsin B / genetics
  • Cathepsin B / metabolism
  • Cathepsin D / genetics
  • Cathepsin D / metabolism
  • Cathepsin L
  • Cathepsins / genetics
  • Cathepsins / metabolism*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development*
  • Endopeptidases*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic*
  • Mice
  • Placenta / enzymology*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Trophoblasts / enzymology*


  • Cathepsins
  • Endopeptidases
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Cathepsin B
  • Cathepsin L
  • Ctsl protein, mouse
  • Cathepsin D