Human C3 is a multipotent molecule which participates to different events involved in immune response as complement activation, antigen presentation, cell-cell interactions and cell proliferation. Thus, proteinases which cleave C3 may modify C3-dependent cellular functions. This led us to identify two membrane-associated proteinases which cleave human C3: (a) A p57 serine proteinase expressed on human erythrocyte membranes - This p57 proteinase shared antigenic determinants with ankyrine and may be involved in clearance of immune complexes; (b) A p41 cysteine proteinase, which shares antigenic determinants, amino-acid sequence and specific activity with procathepsin-L - This p41 C3-cleaving cyteine proteinase is also involved in tumorigenic and metastatic properties of human melanoma in nude mice. Indeed, pretreatment of highly tumorigenic and metastatic melanoma cells with anti-p39 Ab totally abolished their tumorigenicity and significantly decreased the number of experimental lung metastases in nude mice. Furthermore, overexpression of procathepsin-L in nonmetastatic melanoma cells increased their tumorigenicity and switched their phenotype to highly metastatic cells in nude mice. Altogether, these data support that expression and secretion of procathepsin-L, which cleaves human C3, might be one of the multiple mechanisms by which tumor cells escape the immune surveillance.
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