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Procathepsin E is highly abundant but minimally active in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma tumors


The cathepsin family of lysosomal proteases is increasingly being recognized for their altered expression in cancer and role in facilitating tumor progression. The aspartyl protease cathepsin E is overexpressed in several cancers and has been investigated as a biomarker for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Here we show that cathepsin E expression in mouse PDAC tumors is increased by more than 400-fold when compared to healthy pancreatic tissue. Cathepsin E accumulates over the course of disease progression and accounts for more than 3% of the tumor protein in mice with end-stage disease. Through immunoblot analysis we determined that only procathepsin E exists in mouse PDAC tumors and cell lines derived from these tumors. By decreasing the pH, this procathepsion E is converted to the mature form, resulting in an increase in proteolytic activity. Although active site inhibitors can bind procathepsin E, treatment of PDAC mice with the aspartyl protease inhibitor ritonavir did not decrease tumor burden. Lastly, we used multiplex substrate profiling by mass spectrometry to identify two synthetic peptides that are hydrolyzed by procathepsin E near neutral pH. This work represents a comprehensive analysis of procathepsin E in PDAC and could facilitate the development of improved biomarkers for disease detection.

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