Where do the immunostimulatory effects of oral proteolytic enzymes ('systemic enzyme therapy') come from? Microbial proteolysis as a possible starting point

Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(6):1386-8. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2006.05.051. Epub 2006 Jul 25.


Enteric-coated proteolytic enzyme preparations like Wobenzym and Phlogenzym are widely used for the so-called 'systemic enzyme therapy' both in humans and animals. Numerous publications reveal that oral proteolytic enzymes are able to stimulate directly the activity of immune competent cells as well as to increase efficiency of some of their products. But origins of the immunostimulatory effects of oral proteolytic enzymes are still unclear. The hypothesis described here suggests that it may be proteolysis of intestinal microorganisms that makes the immune competent cells to work in the immunostimulatory manner. The hypothesis was largely formed by several scientific observations: First, microbial lysis products (lipopolysaccharides, muropeptides and other peptidoglycan fragments, beta-glucans, etc.) are well known for their immunostimulatory action. Second, a normal human being hosts a mass of intestinal microorganisms equivalent to about 1 kg. The biomass (mainly due to naturally occurring autolysis) continuously supplies the host's organism with immunostimulatory microbial cell components. Third, the immunostimulatory effects resulting from the oral application of exogenously acting antimicrobial (lytic) enzyme preparations, such as lysozyme and lysosubtilin, are likely to be a result of the action of microbial lysis products. Fourth, cell walls of most microorganisms contain a considerable amount of proteins/peptides, a possible target for exogenous proteolytic enzymes. In fact, several authors have already shown that a number of proteases possess an ability to lyse the microbial cells in vitro. Fifth, the pretreatment of microbial cells (at least of some species) in vitro with proteolytic enzymes makes them more sensitive to the lytic action of lysozyme and, otherwise, pretreatment with lysozyme makes them more susceptible to proteolytic degradation. Sixth, exogenous proteases, when in the intestines, may participate in final steps of food-protein digestion. The resulting food-borne peptides have recently been shown to be potential activators of microbial autolysis. The main question that needs to be answered in order to verify the hypothesis is whether oral proteases are able (and to what extent) to lyse/mediate lysis of intestinal microorganisms in situ. Methods based on up-to-date molecular biology techniques to allow investigation of the influence of exogenous proteases on microbial lysis processes in vivo (in the intestines) need to be developed. Research testing of this hypothesis may have an important impact in development of novel preparations for the systemic enzyme therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / enzymology*
  • Bromelains / immunology
  • Bromelains / therapeutic use
  • Drug Combinations
  • Humans
  • Hydrolases / pharmacology
  • Hydrolases / therapeutic use
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Mouth / microbiology*
  • Peptide Hydrolases / pharmacology*
  • Peptide Hydrolases / therapeutic use
  • Rutin / analogs & derivatives
  • Rutin / immunology
  • Rutin / pharmacology
  • Rutin / therapeutic use
  • Trypsin / immunology
  • Trypsin / therapeutic use


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Drug Combinations
  • Phlogenzym
  • Rutin
  • Wobenzym
  • Bromelains
  • Hydrolases
  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Trypsin