Protease activity was measured through the hydrolysis of synthetic amino acid esters in body fluids and tissues of guinea pigs, rats, mice, and humans. Significant in vitro activation was observed in serum and lung slices of sensitized guinea pigs on addition of the specific antigen. Increased proteolytic activity was also seen in reverse anaphylaxis. More marked activation occurred when guinea pig serum was treated with peptone and guinea pig or rat serum was treated with agar. Protease activation was demonstrated in specimens of human skin under the influence of a poison ivy extract or croton oil added in vitro.
Urinary protease activity of guinea pigs increased significantly during the first hours of anaphylactic shock and very markedly in peptone shock. Peptone shock, elicited in mice pretreated with H. pertussis, was accompanied by a considerable increase in protease activity in the peritoneal fluid as compared with non-pretreated mice which were insensitive to peptone.
Proteolytic activity resulting from the activation procedures was due to a number of proteases. The dominant substrate affinity and inhibition patterns suggest that serum and urine proteases are similar to but not identical with plasmin. Anaphylactic activation exhibited patterns different from those resulting from the action of anaphylactoid agents. Tissue enzymes are either of cathepsin- or chymotrypsin-type or mixtures of both.
Some of the activated enzymes, although remarkably effective in hydrolyzing amino acid esters, show no activity on protein substrates. This does not justify, however, their designation as "esterases." They probably belong to the class of specific proteases acting only on a single or a small number of functionally significant protein substrates.
There is at present sufficient evidence to prove not only that protease activation does occur in anaphylaxis and anaphylactoid conditions but also that it is an important component of the chain of reactions leading to the allergic response.