Degradation of proteoglycan 4/lubricin by cathepsin S: Potential mechanism for diminished ocular surface lubrication in Sjögren's syndrome
Sjögren's syndrome (SS) is an autoimmune disease affecting the lacrimal and salivary glands with hallmark clinical symptoms of dry eye and dry mouth. Recently, markedly increased cathepsin S (CTSS) activity has been observed in the tears of SS patients. Proteoglycan 4 (PRG4), also known as lubricin, is an effective boundary lubricant that is naturally present on the ocular surface. While PRG4 is susceptible to proteolytic digestion, the potential effect of CTSS on PRG4 remains unknown. The objective of this study was to assess the ability of CTSS to enzymatically degrade purified PRG4, and PRG4 naturally present in human tears, and alter ocular surface boundary lubricating properties. To assess the potential time course and dose-dependency of PRG4 digestion by CTSS, full-length recombinant human PRG4 (rhPRG4) was incubated at 37 °C with or without CTSS in an enzymatic digestion buffer. Digestion of PRG4 by CTSS was also examined within normal human tear samples, both with and without supplementation by rhPRG4. Finally, digestion of endogenous PRG4 by CTSS, and the effect of a CTSS inhibitor, was examined in SS tears on Schirmer strips. Digestion products were separated on 3–8% SDS-PAGE and visualized by protein staining and western blotting. The boundary lubricating ability of rhPRG4 samples was assessed using an in vitro human eyelid-cornea friction test. Finally, SDS-PAGE protein stain bands resulting from rhPRG4 digestion were submitted for tandem mass spectrometry analysis to confirm their identity as PRG4 and identify non-tryptic cleavage sites. CTSS digested rhPRG4 in a time and dose dependent manner. CTSS digestion of rhPRG4 at 1% (where % is the mass ratio of CTSS to rhPRG4) resulted in a time dependent decrease in the full-length, ˜460 kDa, monomeric rhPRG4 band, and an appearance of lower MW fragments. After 20 h, no full-length rhPRG4 was observed. Furthermore, with an increased relative enzyme concentration of 3%, no protein bands were observed after 2 h, indicating complete digestion of rhPRG4. Western blotting demonstrated PRG4 is present in normal human tears, and that rhPRG4, tears, and tears supplemented with rhPRG4 incubated with 3–9% CTSS demonstrated decreased intensity of high MW PRG4 bands, indicative of partial degradation by CTSS. Similarly, western blotting of PRG4 in SS tears incubated with CTSS demonstrated decreased intensity of high MW PRG4 bands, which was reversed in the presence of the CTSS inhibitor. CTSS treatment of rhPRG4 resulted in an increased friction coefficient, compared to untreated controls. Lastly, the lower MW bands were confirmed to be PRG4 fragments by tandem mass spectrometry, and 6 non-tryptic cleavage sites were identified. rhPRG4 is susceptible to proteolytic digestion by CTSS, both alone and in human tears, which results in diminished ocular surface boundary lubricating ability. Moreover, endogenous PRG4 is susceptible to proteolytic digestion by CTSS, both in normal and SS tears. Given the elevated activity of CTSS in SS tears, and the role intact PRG4 plays in ocular surface health and lubrication, degradation of PRG4 by CTSS is a potential mechanism for diminished ocular surface lubrication in SS. Collectively these results suggest that tear supplementation of PRG4 may be beneficial for SS patients.