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Cystatins, cysteine peptidase inhibitors, as regulators of immune cell cytotoxicity
; Jožef Stefan Institute, Department of Biotechnology, Ljubljana
Cystatins comprise a superfamily of evolutionarily related proteins, present in all living organisms, from protozoa to mammals. They act as inhibitors of cysteine peptidases although they can also function independently of their inhibitory function. Cysteine cathepsins are implicated in various physiological and pathological processes. In the immune response they are involved in antigen processing and presentation, the cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), migration and adhesion of immune cells, cytokine and growth factor regulation and toll-like receptor signalling. Cystatins are probably involved in the regulation of all these processes; importantly, cystatin F has a crucial role in the regulation of immune cell cytotoxicity. NK cells and CTLs exploit the granzyme/perforin pathway for target cell killing, with perforin and granzymes as crucial effector molecules. Granzymes are synthesized as inactive pro-granzymes and need to be proteolytically activated by cathepsins C and H. Cystatin F is the main regulator of the activity of cathepsins C and H in cytotoxic cells and, consequently, regulates their cytotoxicity. The role of cystatins and cysteine cathepsins in the immune response is presented, with emphasis on their role in the regulation of cytotoxicity of NK cells and CTLs.
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