FEBS letters

Functional involvement of cathepsin W in the cytotoxic activity of NK-92 cells.

PMID 14527671


Human cathepsin W (lymphopain) is a papain-like cysteine protease of unknown function that is specifically expressed in natural killer (NK) cells and to a lesser extent in cytotoxic T cells (CTL). In order to analyze the functional importance of cathepsin W for the cytotoxic process, we investigated NK-92 cells that have an NK cell-like phenotype and express cathepsin W. NK-92 cells possess strong cytotoxic activity against Jurkat and K562 cells. The cytotoxic activity of NK-92 cells against K562 was decreased in the presence of antisense phosphorothioate oligonucleotides against the cathepsin W-cDNA. Western blot analysis showed that the impaired cytotoxic activity of NK-92 cells was accompanied by reduced amounts of cathepsin W in the antisense-treated cells. In addition, co-cultivation experiments between NK-92 and K562 cells revealed a time-dependent decrease of cathepsin W by Western blot and immunofluorescence analysis during the cytotoxic attack, whereas CD56 expression of NK-92 cells was not affected. During cytotoxic attack, cathepsin W was neither targeted to K562 cells or other subcellular compartments, as shown by immunofluorescence analysis. The decrease of cathepsin W protein was associated with stable cathepsin W transcript levels. Control experiments using HT-29 cells, which are resistant against NK-92-mediated cytotoxicity, showed no change of cathepsin W expression, implying that the decrease of cathepsin W in the NK-92/K562 assay is linked to the cytotoxic process. Although the exact function of cathepsin W with respect to its enzymatic activity and its site of action still needs to be elucidated, our data demonstrate for the first time that cathepsin W is important for cellular cytotoxicity mediated by NK cells.