Research article

S3 to S3' subsite specificity of recombinant human cathepsin K and development of selective internally quenched fluorescent substrates

Marcio F. M. ALVES, Luciano PUZER, Simone S. COTRIN, Maria Aparecida JULIANO, Luiz JULIANO, Dieter BRÖMME, Adriana K. CARMONA


We have systematically examined the S3 to S3′ subsite substrate specificity requirements of cathepsin K using internally quenched fluorescent peptides derived from the lead sequence Abz-KLRFSKQ-EDDnp [where Abz is o-aminobenzoic acid and EDDnp is N-(2,4-dinitrophenyl)ethylenediamine]. We assayed six series of peptides, in which each position except Gln was substituted with various natural amino acids. The results indicated that the S3–S1 subsite requirements are more restricted than those of S1′–S3′. Cathepsin K preferentially accommodates hydrophobic amino acids with aliphatic side chains (Leu, Ile and Val) in the S2 site. Modifications at P1 residues also have a large influence on cathepsin K activity. Positively charged residues (Arg and Lys) represent the best accepted amino acids in this position, although a particular preference for Gly was found as well. Subsite S3 accepted preferentially basic amino acids such as Lys and Arg. A broad range of amino acids was accommodated in the remaining subsites. We further explored the acceptance of a Pro residue in the P2 position by cathepsin K in order to develop specific substrates for the enzyme. Two series of peptides with the general sequences Abz-KXPGSKQ-EDDnp and Abz-KPXGSKQ-EDDnp (where X denotes the position of the amino acid that is altered) were synthesized. The substrates Abz-KPRGSKQ-EDDnp and Abz-KKPGSKQ-EDDnp were cleaved by cathepsin K at the Arg–Gly and Gly–Ser bonds respectively, and have been shown to be specific for cathepsin K when compared with other lysosomal cysteine proteases such as cathepsins L and B and with the aspartyl protease cathepsin D.

  • lysosomal proteinase
  • cysteine protease
  • fluorogenic substrate


  • Abbreviations used: Abz, o-aminobenzoic acid; ACC, 7-amino-4-carbamoylmethylcoumarin; EDDnp, N-(2,4-dinitrophenyl)ethylenediamine; MCA, 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin; MALDI-TOF, matrix-assisted laser-desorption ionization–time-of-flight; Z-, benzyloxycarbonyl-.