Background: Lactacystin inhibits cell proliferation and induces a distinctive, predominantly bipolar (two-neurite-bearing) morphology in Neuro 2A murine neuroblastoma cells. It binds with high specificity to the multicatalytic 20S proteasome and inhibits at least three of its peptidase activities (chymotrypsin-like, trypsin-like and peptidylglutamyl-peptide hydrolyzing), each at a different rate, without inhibiting other known proteases. The chymotrypsin-like and trypsin-like activities of the proteasome are inhibited most rapidly, and irreversibly. In an effort to determine which of the peptidase activities needs to be inhibited for neurite outgrowth to occur, we treated Neuro 2A cells with peptide aldehydes that selectively inhibit different proteasome activities.
Results: Treatment with peptide aldehydes ending in a hydrophobic residue, all of which inhibit the chymotrypsin-like activity, results in a bipolar morphology in Neuro 2A cells, whereas treatment with a peptide aldehyde inhibitor of the trypsin-like activity does not lead to a detectable change in morphology. One of the inhibitors that induces neurite outgrowth has been previously shown to inhibit the chymotrypsin-like activity of the proteasome without inhibiting the other apparently distinct peptidase activities that cleave after neutral residues, the so-called 'branched chain amino acid preferring' (BrAAP) and 'small neutral amino acid preferring' (SNAAP) activities, or the peptidylglutamyl-peptide hydrolyzing (PGPH) activity.
Conclusions: The chymotrypsin-like activity appears to antagonize bipolar-type neurite outgrowth in Neuro 2A cells, while the trypsin-like, PGPH, BrAAP and SNAAP appear not to do so. Selective inhibition of a single peptidase activity, as opposed to general inhibition of the proteasome, appears sufficient to induce a specific cellular process. Selective inhibition might be useful in managing diseases where only one activity is involved without completely inhibiting the proteasome. It is also possible that endogenous regulators of the proteasome could affect cellular processes and that certain peptidase activities of the proteasome may have roles in specifying a given cell fate.