Mast Cell Peptidases: Chameleons of Innate Immunity and Host Defense

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Mast cells make and secrete an abundance of peptidases, which are stored in such large amounts in granules that they comprise a high fraction of all cellular protein. Perhaps no other immune cell is so generously endowed with peptidases. For many years after the main peptidases were first described, they were best known as markers of degranulation, for they are released locally in response to mast cell stimulation and can be distributed systemically and detected in blood. The principal peptidases are tryptases, chymases, carboxypeptidase A3, and dipeptidylpeptidase I (cathepsin C). Numerous studies suggest that these enzymes are important and even critical for host defense and homeostasis. Endogenous and allergen or pathogen-associated targets have been identified. Belying the narrow notion of peptidases as proinflammatory, several of the peptidases limit inflammation and toxicity of endogenous peptides and venoms. The peptidases are interdependent, so that absence or inactivity of one enzyme can alter levels and activity of others. Mammalian mast cell peptidases—chymases and tryptases especially—vary remarkably in number, expression, biophysical properties, and specificity, perhaps because they hyper-evolved under pressure from the very pathogens they help to repel. Tryptase and chymase involvement in some pathologies stimulated development of therapeutic inhibitors for use in asthma, lung fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, ulcerative colitis, and cardiovascular diseases. While animal studies support the potential for mast cell peptidase inhibitors to mitigate certain diseases, other studies, as in mice lacking selected peptidases, predict roles in defense against bacteria and parasites and that systemic inactivation may impair host defense.

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