Extracellular, circulating proteasomes and ubiquitin - incidence and relevance

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Dec;1782(12):817-23. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2008.06.005. Epub 2008 Jun 18.


The ubiquitin-proteasome system is the major pathway for intracellular protein degradation and is also deeply involved in the regulation of most basic cellular processes. Its proteolytic core, the 20S proteasome, has found to be attached also to the cell plasma membrane and certain observations are interpreted as to suggest that they may be released into the extracellular medium, e.g. in the alveolar lining fluid, epididymal fluid and possibly during the acrosome reaction. Proteasomes have also been detected in normal human blood plasma and designated circulating proteasomes; these have a comparatively low specific activity, a distinct pattern of subtypes and their exact origin is still enigmatic. In patients suffering from autoimmune diseases, malignant myeloproliferative syndromes, multiple myeloma, acute and chronic lymphatic leukaemia, solid tumour, sepsis or trauma, respectively, the concentration of circulating proteasomes has been found to be elevated, to correlate with the disease state and has even prognostic significance. Similarly, ubiquitin has been discovered as a normal component of human blood and seminal plasma and in ovarian follicular fluid. Increased concentrations were measured in diverse pathological situations, not only in blood plasma but also in cerebrospinal fluid, where it may have neuroprotective effects. As defective spermatozoa are covered with ubiquitin in the epididymal fluid, extracellular ubiquitination is proposed to be a mechanism for quality control in spermatogenesis. Growing evidence exists also for a participation of extracellular proteasomes and ubiquitin in the fertilization process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Extracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / blood*
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Ubiquitin
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex