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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pepsin

Pepsin is a digestive enzyme that is secreted by the chief cells in the stomach. It breaks down food proteins into peptides. Pepsin is one of three protein-degrading, or proteolytic enzymes in the digestive system. The other two are chymotrypsin and trypsin. These enzymes work together to break proteins down to peptides and amino acids, so they can be readily absorbed by the intestinal lining.

Pepsin is first produced as a pepsinogen, which is a zymogen whose primary structure has an additional 44 amino acids. The hormone gastrin and the vagus nerve trigger the release of both pepsinogen and Hydrochloric acid from the stomach lining when food is ingested. Then this pepsinogen is activated by the hydrochloric acid, which is released from parietal cells in the stomach lining. Hydrochloric acid creates an acidic environment which allows pepsinogen to unfold and cleave itself in an autocatalytic fashion, thereby generating pepsin.

Pepsin was discovered in 1836 by Theodor Schwann who also coined this enzyme's name from the Greek word pepsis, meaning digestion (peptein: to digest). It was the first animal enzyme to be discovered, and in 1929 it became one of the first enzymes to be crystallized, by John H. Northrop. Pepsin is a digestive protease.