Digestive Proteases Degrade Dietary Proteins

The major extracellular pathway for protein degradation is the system of digestive proteases that breaks down ingested proteins into peptides and amino acids in the intestinal tract. Three classes of proteases function in digestion. Endoproteases attack selected peptide bonds within a polypeptide chain. The principal endoproteases are pepsin, which preferentially cleaves the backbone adjacent to phenylalanine and leucine residues, and trypsin and chymotrypsin, which cleave the backbone adjacent to basic and aromatic residues. Exopepti-dases sequentially remove residues from the N-terminus (aminopeptidases) or C-terminus (carboxypeptidases) of a protein. Peptidases split oligopeptides containing as many as about 20 amino acids into di- and tripeptides and individual amino acids. These small molecules are then transported across the intestinal lining into the bloodstream.

To protect a cell from degrading itself, endoproteases and carboxypeptidases are synthesized and secreted as inactive forms (zymogens): pepsin by chief cells in the lining of the stomach; the others by pancreatic cells. Proteolytic cleavage of the zymogens within the gastic or intestinal lumen yields the active enzymes. Intestinal epithelial cells produce aminopeptidases and the di- and tripeptidases.

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