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Keywords:

  • Balamuthia mandrillaris;
  • granulomatous amoebic encephalitis;
  • metalloproteases;
  • central nervous system;
  • cytotoxicity

Abstract

Balamuthia mandrillaris is a recently identified protozoan pathogen that can cause fatal granulomatous encephalitis. However, the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of B. mandrillaris encephalitis remain unclear. Because proteases may play a role in the central nervous system (CNS) pathology, we used spectrophotometric, cytopathic and zymographic assays to assess protease activities of B. mandrillaris. Using two clinical isolates of B. mandrillaris (from human and baboon), we observed that B. mandrillaris exhibits protease activities. Zymographic assays revealed major protease bands of approximate molecular weights in the region of 40–50 kDa on sodium dodecyl sulfate–polyacrylamide gels using gelatin as substrate. The protease bands were inhibited with 1,10-phenanthroline, suggesting metallo-type proteases. The proteolytic activities were observed over a pH range of 5–11 with maximum activity at neutral pH and at 42°C. Balamuthia mandrillaris proteases exhibit properties to degrade extracellular matrix (ECM), which provide structural and functional support to the brain tissue. This is shown by degradation of collagen I and III (major components of collagenous ECM), elastin (elastic fibrils of ECM), plasminogen (involved in proteolytic degradation of ECM), as well as other substrates such as casein and gelatin but not haemoglobin. However, these proteases exhibited a minimal role in B. mandrillaris-mediated host cell death in vitro using human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMECs). This was shown using broad-spectrum matrix metalloprotease inhibitors, GM 6001 and GM 1489, which had no effect on B. mandrillaris-mediated HBMEC cytotoxicity. This is the first demonstration that B. mandrillaris exhibits metalloproteases, which may play important role(s) in the ECM degradation and thus in CNS pathology.