AskDefine | Define proteases

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  1. Plural of protease

Extensive Definition

A protease is any enzyme that conducts proteolysis, that is, begins protein catabolism by hydrolysis of the peptide bonds that link amino acids together in the polypeptide chain.


Proteases are currently classified into six groups:
The threonine and glutamic acid proteases were not described until 1995 and 2004, respectively. The mechanism used to cleave a peptide bond involves making an amino acid residue that has the cysteine and threonine (peptidases) or a water molecule (aspartic acid, metallo- and glutamic acid peptidases) nucleophilic so that it can attack the peptide carbonyl group. One way to make a nucleophile is by a catalytic triad, where a histidine residue is used to activate serine, cysteine, or threonine as a nucleophile.


Proteases occur naturally in all organisms. These enzymes are involved in a multitude of physiological reactions from simple digestion of food proteins to highly-regulated cascades (e.g., the blood-clottin cascade, the complement system, apoptosis pathways, and the invertebrate prophenoloxidase-activating cascade). Peptidases can either break specific peptide bonds (limited proteolysis), depending on the amino acid sequence of a protein, or break down a complete peptide to amino acids (unlimited proteolysis). The activity can be a destructive change, abolishing a protein's function or digesting it to its principal components; it can be an activation of a function, or it can be a signal in a signaling pathway.
Bacteria also secrete proteases to hydrolyse the peptide bonds in proteins and therefore break the proteins down into their constituent monomers.
Proteases are also a type of exotoxin, which is a virulence factor in bacteria pathogenesis. Bacteria exotoxic proteases destroy extracellular structures. Protease enzymes are also found used extensively in the bread industry in Bread improver.
Proteases, also known as proteinases or proteolytic enzymes, are a large group of enzymes. Proteases belong to the class of enzymes known as hydrolases, which catalyse the reaction of hydrolysis of various bonds with the participation of a water molecule.
Proteases are involved in digesting long protein chains into short fragments, splitting the peptide bonds that link amino acid residues. Some of them can detach the terminal amino acids from the protein chain (exopeptidases, such as aminopeptidases, carboxypeptidase A); the others attack internal peptide bonds of a protein (endopeptidases, such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, pepsin, papain, elastase).
Proteases are divided into four major groups according to the character of their catalytic active site and conditions of action: serine proteinases, cysteine (thiol) proteinases, aspartic proteinases, and metalloproteinases. Attachment of a protease to a certain group depends on the structure of catalytic site and the amino acid (as one of the constituents) essential for its activity.
Proteases are used throughout an organism for various metabolic processes. Acid proteases secreted into the stomach (such as pepsin) and serine proteases present in duodenum (trypsin and chymotrypsin) enable us to digest the protein in food; proteases present in blood serum (thrombin, plasmin, Hageman factor, etc.) play important role in blood-clotting, as well as lysis of the clots, and the correct action of the immune system. Other proteases are present in leukocytes (elastase, cathepsin G) and play several different roles in metabolic control. Proteases determine the lifetime of other proteins playing important physiological role like hormones, antibodies, or other enzymes -- this is one of the fastest "switching on" and "switching off" regulatory mechanisms in the physiology of an organism. By complex cooperative action the proteases may proceed as cascade reactions, which result in rapid and efficient amplification of an organism's response to a physiological signal.


The function of peptidases is inhibited by protease inhibitor enzymes. Examples of protease inhibitors are the class of serpins (serine protease or peptidase inhibitors), incorporating alpha 1-antitrypsin. Other serpins are complement 1-inhibitor, antithrombin, alpha 1-antichymotrypsin, plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (coagulation, fibrinolysis) and the recently discovered neuroserpin.
Natural protease inhibitors include the family of lipocalin proteins, which play a role in cell regulation and differentiation. Lipophilic ligands, attached to lipocalin proteins, have been found to possess tumor protease inhibiting properties. The natural protease inhibitors are not to be confused with the protease inhibitors used in antiretroviral therapy. Some viruses, with HIV among them, depend on proteases in their reproductive cycle. Thus, protease inhibitors are developed as antiviral means.


Proteases, being themselves proteins, are known to be cleaved by other protease molecules, sometimes of the same variety. This may be an important method of regulation of peptidase activity.

Protease research

The field of protease research is enormous. Barrett and Rawlings estimated that approximately 8000 papers related to this field are published each year. For a look at current activities and interests of protease researchers, see the International Proteolysis Society web page.


  • Barrett A.J., Rawlings ND, Woessner JF. The Handbook of Proteolytic Enzymes, 2nd ed. Academic Press, 2003. ISBN 0-12-079610-4.
  • Hedstrom L. Serine Protease Mechanism and Specificity. Chem Rev 2002;102:4501-4523.
  • Southan C. A genomic perspective on human proteases as drug targets. Drug Discov Today 2001;6:681-688.
  • Hooper NM. Proteases in Biology and Medicine. London: Portland Press, 2002. ISBN 1-85578-147-6.
  • Puente XS, Sanchez LM, Overall CM, Lopez-Otin C. Human and Mouse Proteases: a Comparative Genomic Approach. Nat Rev Genet 2003;4:544-558.
  • Ross J, Jiang H, Kanost MR, Wang Y. Serine proteases and their homologs in the Drosophila melanogaster genome: an initial analysis of sequence conservation and phylogenetic relationships. Gene 2003;304:117-31.
  • Puente XS, Lopez-Otin C. A Genomic Analysis of Rat Proteases and Protease Inhibitors. Genome Biol 2004;14:609-622.
proteases in Catalan: Peptidasa
proteases in Czech: Proteáza
proteases in Danish: Protease
proteases in German: Peptidase
proteases in Spanish: Peptidasa
proteases in French: Peptidase
proteases in Italian: Proteasi
proteases in Hebrew: פרוטאז
proteases in Hungarian: Proteáz
proteases in Dutch: Protease
proteases in Japanese: プロテアーゼ
proteases in Norwegian: Protease
proteases in Polish: Proteazy
proteases in Portuguese: Protease
proteases in Simple English: Protease
proteases in Slovenian: Peptidaza
proteases in Swedish: Proteas
proteases in Turkish: Proteaz
proteases in Chinese: 蛋白酶
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