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Clin Microbiol Infect 2011; 17: 603–609
Acute ocular infection due to free-living amoebae of the genus Acanthamoeba is characterized by severe pain, loss of corneal transparency and, eventually, blindness. Proteolytic enzymes secreted by trophozoites of virulent Acanthamoeba strains have an essential role in the mechanisms of pathogenesis, including adhesion, invasion and destruction of the corneal stroma. In this study, we analysed the relationship between the extracellular proteases secreted by clinical isolates of Acanthamoeba and the clinical manifestations and severity of disease that they caused. Clinical isolates were obtained from patients who showed typical symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis. Trophozoites were cultivated axenically, and extracellular proteins were collected from cell culture supernatants. Secreted enzymes were partially characterized by gelatin and collagen zymography. Acanthamoeba trophozoites secreted proteases with different molecular masses, proteolysis rates and substrate specificities, mostly serine-like proteases. Different enzymatic patterns of collagenases were observed, varying between single and multiple collagenolytic activities. Low molecular weight serine proteases were secreted by trophozoites associated with worse clinical manifestations. Consequently, proteolytic enzymes of some Acanthamoeba trophozoites could be related to the degree of their virulence and clinical manifestations of disease in the human cornea.