Purpose: To isolate and characterize a novel cathepsin gene, as part of the systematic isolation of genes uniquely active in corneal epithelium.
Methods: For the isolation of a full-length cDNA clone, a probe was selected from a set of expressed sequence tag clones classified as unique to corneal epithelium. Inserted cDNA was introduced into insect cells using a baculovirus expression system, and the secretion of recombinant protein was identified using antisera against a synthetic peptide. Proteolytic activity was determined using bovine serum albumin (BSA) as substrate. The expressions of the novel cathepsin in human cornea and other tissues were examined by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
Results: The full-length cDNA clone encoded a peptide of 334 amino acids with 82% identity with bovine cathepsin L and 77% identity with human cathepsin L when aligned. The recombinant protein produced in the baculovirus expression system cleaves BSA, and its activity was inhibited by the cysteine proteinase inhibitors E-64 and leupeptin, but not by pepstatin A, phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride, and EDTA. By RT-PCR, a low level of expression was observed in some other epithelial tissues of ectodermal origin, but only in cornea was it higher than cathepsin L, which is known to be a general lysosomal cathepsin. Cathepsin V protein was detected in human corneal epithelium by western blot analysis, but not in tear fluid.
Conclusions: The amino acid homology and proteolytic activity of the recombinant protein indicate that the novel gene is a new member of the cathepsins that have features of cysteine proteinase. Its uniquely high expression in corneal epithelium strongly implies an important role in corneal physiology.