Mapping the eosinophil cationic protein antimicrobial activity by chemical and enzymatic cleavage.

PMID 20951760


The eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) is a human antimicrobial protein involved in the host immune defense that belongs to the pancreatic RNase A family. ECP displays a wide range of antipathogen activities. The protein is highly cationic and its bactericidal activity is dependant on both cationic and hydrophobic surface exposed residues. Previous studies on ECP by site-directed mutagenesis indicated that the RNase activity is not essential for its bactericidal activity. To further understand the ECP bactericidal mechanism, we have applied enzymatic and chemical limited cleavage to search for active sequence determinants. Following a search for potential peptidases we selected the Lys-endoproteinase, which cleaves the ECP polypeptide at the carboxyl side of its unique Lys residue, releasing the N-terminal fragment (0-38). Chemical digestion using cyanogen bromide released several complementary peptides at the protein N-terminus. Interestingly, ECP treatment with cyanogen bromide represents a new example of selective chemical cleavage at the carboxyl side of not only Met but also Trp residues. Recombinant ECP was denatured and carboxyamidomethylated prior to enzymatic and chemical cleavage. Irreversible denaturation abolishes the protein bactericidal activity. The characterization of the digestion products by both enzymatic and chemical approaches identifies a region at the protein N-terminus, from residues 11 to 35, that retains the bactericidal activity. The most active fragment, ECP(0-38), is further compared to ECP derived synthetic peptides. The region includes previously identified stretches related to lipopolysaccharide binding and bacteria agglutination. The results contribute to define the shortest ECP minimized version that would retain its antimicrobial properties. The data suggest that the antimicrobial RNase can provide a scaffold for the selective release of cytotoxic peptides.