Extended substrate specificity of opossum chymase--implications for the origin of mast cell chymases.
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Serine proteases are major granule constituents of mast cells, neutrophils, T cells and NK cells. The genes encoding these proteases are arranged in different loci. The mast cell chymase locus e.g. comprises at least one alpha-chymase, one cathepsin G, and two granzyme genes in almost all mammalian species investigated. However, in the gray, short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) this locus contains only two genes. Phylogenetic analyses place one of them clearly with the alpha-chymases, whereas the other gene is equally related to cathepsin G and the granzymes. To study the function of opossum chymase, and to explore the evolutionary origin of mast cell chymases, we have analyzed the cleavage specificity of this enzyme. The protease was expressed in mammalian cells and the extended substrate specificity was determined using a randomized phage-displayed nonapeptide library. A strong preference for the aromatic amino acids Trp over Phe and Tyr in the P1 position was observed. This is in contrast to human chymase and mouse mast cell protease-4, which prefer Phe over Tyr and Trp in this position. However, in most other positions this enzyme shows amino acid preferences very similar to human chymase and mouse mast cell protease-4, i.e. aliphatic amino acids in positions P4, P3, P2 and P1', and acidic amino acids (Glu and Asp) in the P2' position. The overall specificity of MC chymase thereby seems to have been conserved over almost 200 million years of mammalian evolution, indicating a strong selective pressure in maintaining this specificity and an important role for these enzymes in mast cell biology.