The intravenous injection of crystalline papain into young rabbits results in depletion of cartilage matrix throughout the body, with loss of rigidity and collapse of the ears, provided the enzyme is inactivated by oxidation or sulfhydryl blocking agents prior to administration. Cysteine-activated crystalline papain, when injected intravenously, produces little or no change in cartilage.
The changes which occur in cartilage following an injection of inactivated crystalline papain are indistinguishable from those produced by crude papain.
Activation of crude papain by cysteine prior to injection results in loss of its capacity to produce in vivo changes in cartilage.
The progressive changes which take place in cartilage in vivo also occur in vitro in isolated rabbit ears removed shortly after an injection of crude papain or inactivated crystalline papain. In vitro ear collapse occurs rapidly at 37°C. and does not occur at 4°C. Collapse is enhanced by exposing the cartilage to cysteine and prevented by exposure to iodoacetamide or p-chloromercuribenzoate.
The direct action of crystalline papain on plates of normal cartilage, in vitro, results in the same gross and histological changes which were observed in vivo. The direct action is accelerated by cysteine and inhibited by iodoacetamide or p-chloromercuribenzoate.
The intravenous injection of iodoacetamide-treated bromelin produces the same in vivo changes in cartilage as papain. Untreated bromelin has no demonstrable effect on cartilage.
It is suggested that the reason for the failure of activated papain to enter cartilage, after being injected intravenously, is that it probably reacts with a substrate or substrates in the blood. Oxidized or otherwise inactivated papain, in contrast, is readily taken up by cartilage and there converted to its active form.