Stepwise degradation of the invariant chain (Ii) is required for the binding of antigenic peptides to MHC class II molecules. Cathepsin (Cat) L in the murine thymus and Cat S in peripheral APCs have both been implicated in the last step of Ii degradation that gives rise to the class II–associated invariant chain peptides (CLIP). Cat V has been recently described as highly homologous to Cat L and exclusively expressed in human thymus and testis, but with no mouse orthologue. We report that Cat V is the dominant cysteine protease in cortical human thymic epithelial cells, while Cat L and Cat S seem to be restricted to dendritic and macrophage-like cells. Active Cat V in thymic lysosomal preparations was demonstrated by active-site labeling. Recombinant Cat V was capable of converting Ii into CLIP efficiently, suggesting that Cat V is the protease that controls the generation of αβ-CLIP complexes in the human thymus, in analogy to Cat L in mouse. Comparison of Cat V expression between thymi from patients with myasthenia gravis and healthy controls revealed a significantly higher expression level in the pathological samples, suggesting a potential involvement of this protease in the immunopathogenesis of myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease almost invariably associated with thymic pathology.
Eva Tolosa, Weijie Li, Yoshiyuki Yasuda, Wolfgang Wienhold, Lisa K. Denzin, Alfred Lautwein, Christoph Driessen, Petra Schnorrer, Ekkehard Weber, Stefan Stevanovic, Raffael Kurek, Arthur Melms, Dieter Brömme