The thiol ester N-t-Boc-L-alanine-p-nitrothiophenyl ester (Boc-Ala-SNp) was synthesized and applied as an ultrastructural cytochemical substrate for intracellular elastase-like enzymes. Mature human neutrophils incubated with Boc-Ala-SNp and gold ions generate an electron-dense reaction product, gold p-nitrothiophenolate, which is found in the nuclear membrane, Golgi complex, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and granules of these cells. Enzyme activity against Boc-Ala-SNp is also observed in developing monkey bone marrow neutrophils and in other blood cells. The intracellular neutrophil enzyme activity is elastase-like because it is characterized by a slightly alkaline pH optimum and is inactivated by exposure of the cells to general and specific active site inhibitors of neutrophil elastase. This substrate appears to have important potential for use in ultrastructural studies of intracellular elastase-like enzymes.

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