IrCL1 - the haemoglobinolytic cathepsin L of the hard tick, Ixodes ricinus

Int J Parasitol. 2011 Oct;41(12):1253-62. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2011.06.006. Epub 2011 Jul 23.


Intracellular proteolysis of ingested blood proteins is a crucial physiological process in ticks. In our model tick, Ixodes ricinus, cathepsin L (IrCL1) is part of a gut-associated multi-peptidase complex; its endopeptidase activity is important in the initial phase of haemoglobinolysis. We present the functional and biochemical characterisation of this enzyme. We show, by RNA interference (RNAi), that cathepsin L-like activity that peaks during the slow feeding period of females is associated with IrCL1. Recombinant IrCL1 was expressed in bacteria and yeast. Activity profiling with both peptidyl and physiological protein substrates (haemoglobin and albumin) revealed that IrCL1 is an acidic peptidase with a very low optimum pH (3-4) being unstable above pH 5. This suggests an endo/lysosomal localisation that was confirmed by indirect fluorescence microscopy that immunolocalised IrCL1 inside the vesicles of digestive gut cells. Cleavage specificity determined by a positional scanning synthetic combinatorial library and inhibition profile indicated that IrCL1 has the ligand-binding characteristics of the cathepsin L subfamily of cysteine peptidases. A non-redundant proteolytic function was demonstrated when IrCL1-silenced ticks had a decreased ability to feed compared with controls. The data suggest that IrCL1 may be a promising target against ticks and tick-borne pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Albumins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cathepsin L / chemistry
  • Cathepsin L / genetics
  • Cathepsin L / metabolism*
  • Endosomes / enzymology
  • Enzyme Stability
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Silencing
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ixodes / enzymology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Proteolysis
  • RNA Interference
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism


  • Albumins
  • Hemoglobins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Cathepsin L