Thermolysin, a metallopeptidase secreted by pathogenic microbes, is concluded as an important virulence factor due to cleaving purified host proteins in vitro. Using the silkworm Bombyx mori as a model system, we found that thermolysin injection into larvae induces the destruction of the coagulation response and the activation of hemolymph melanization, which results in larval death. Thermolysin triggers the rapid degradation of insect and mammalian plasma proteins at a level that is considerably greater than expected in vitro and/or in vivo. To more specifically explore the mechanism, thermolysin-induced changes to key proteins belonging to the insect melanization pathway were assessed as a window for observing plasma protein cleavage. The application of thermolysin induced the rapid cleavage of the melanization negative regulator serpin-3, but did not directly activate the melanization rate-limiting enzyme prophenoloxidase (PPO) or the terminal serine proteases responsible for PPO activation. Terminal serine proteases of melanization are activated indirectly after thermolysin exposure. We hypothesize that thermolysin induces the rapid degradation of serpins and the activation of proteases directly or indirectly, boosting uncontrolled plasma protein degradation in insects and mammalians.
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.