Protease inhibitors have been widely used in several therapeutic applications such as in the treatment of bleeding disorders, hypertension, cancer and pulmonary diseases. In a previous work, we demonstrated that a Kunitz-type serine protease inhibitor isolated from the seeds of Caesalpinia echinata (CeEI) exhibits pharmacological potential in lung inflammatory diseases in which neutrophil elastase plays a crucial role. However, an important challenge in the use of natural products is to ensure a commercially viable production. In this work, we report the cloning, expression and purification of two recombinant CeEI isoinhibitors with 700 base pairs encoding two proteins with 181 amino acid residues (rCeEI-4 and rCeEI-5). After the expression, each yielding 22 mg/L of active protein, both isoinhibitors presented a molecular mass of about 23.0 kDa, evaluated by SDS-PAGE. The inhibition constants for human neutrophil elastase (HNE) were 0.67 nM (rCeEI-4) and 0.57 nM (rCeEI-5), i.e., similar to the native inhibitor (1.90 nM). Furthermore, rCeEI-4 was used as a template to design smaller functional peptides flanking the inhibitor reactive site: rCeEI-36, delimited between the amino acid residues N and S containing a disulfide bond in the reactive-site loop, and rCeEI-46, delimited between S and L without the disulfide bond. The yields were 18 mg/L (rCeEI-36) and 12 mg/L (rCeEI-46). Both peptides inhibit HNE in the nanomolar range (K 0.30 ± 0.01 and 8.80 ± 0.23, respectively). Considering their size and the inhibitory efficiency, these peptides may be considered in strategies for the development of drugs targeting pulmonary disorders where elastase is involved.
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