The C-terminal subunit of artificially truncated human cathepsin B mediates its nuclear targeting and contributes to cell viability

BMC Cell Biol. 2005 Apr 4;6(1):16. doi: 10.1186/1471-2121-6-16.


Background: Splicing variants of human cathepsinB primary transcripts (CB(-2,3)) result in an expression product product which lacks the signal peptide and parts of the propeptide. This naturally truncated Delta51CB is thus unable to follow the regular CB processing and sorting pathway. It is addressed to the mitochondria through an activated N-terminal mitochondrial targeting signal instead. Although Delta51CB is supposed to be devoid of the typical CB enzymatic activity, it might play a role in malignancies and trigger cell death/apoptosis independent from the function of the regular enzyme. Cytoplasmic presence of the mature CB might occur as a result of lysosomal damage.

Results: We investigated such "aberrant" proteins by artificial CB-GFP chimeras covering various sequence parts in respect to their enzymatic activity, their localization in different cell types, and the effects on the cell viability. Unlike the entire full length CB form, the artificial single chain form was not processed and did not reveal typical enzymatic CB activity during transient overexpression in large cell lung carcinoma cells. Delta51CB was found predominantly in mitochondria. In contrast, the shorter artificial CB constructs localized in the cytoplasm, inside the cell nucleus, and in the midbodies of dividing cells. Bleaching experiments revealed both mobile and immobile fractions of these constructs in the nucleus. Nuclear accumulation of artificially truncated CB variants led to disintegration of nuclei, followed by cell death.

Conclusion: We propose that cell death associated with CB is not necessarily triggered by its regular enzymatic activity but alternatively by a yet unknown activity profile of truncated CB. Cytoplasmic CB might be able to enter the cell nucleus. According to a mutational analysis, the part of CB that mediates its nuclear import is a signal patch within its heavy chain domain. The results suggest that besides the N-terminal signal peptide also other CB domains contain patterns which are responsible for a differentiated targeting of the molecule, e.g. to the mitochondria, to the nucleus, or to vesicles. We propose a hierarchy of targeting signals depending on their strength and availability. This implies other possible transport mechanisms besides the usual trafficking via the mannose-6-sound recording copyright sign pathway.

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus*
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / pathology
  • Cathepsin B / genetics*
  • Cathepsin B / metabolism*
  • Cathepsin B / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival
  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mitochondria / chemistry
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Protein Subunits
  • Protein Transport
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transfection


  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Protein Subunits
  • Cathepsin B