Inhibition of cysteine protease cathepsin L increases the level and activity of lysosomal glucocerebrosidase

Myung Jong Kim, Soojin Kim, Thomas Reinheckel, Dimitri Krainc*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The glucocerebrosidase (GCase) encoded by the GBA1 gene hydrolyzes glucosylceramide (GluCer) to ceramide and glucose in lysosomes. Homozygous or compound heterozygous GBA1 mutations cause the lysosomal storage disease Gaucher disease (GD) due to severe loss of GCase activity. Loss-of-function variants in the GBA1 gene are also the most common genetic risk factor for Parkinson's disease (PD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Restoring lysosomal GCase activity represents an important therapeutic approach for GBA1-associated diseases. We hypothesized that increasing the stability of lysosomal GCase protein could correct deficient GCase activity in these conditions. However, it remains unknown how GCase stability is regulated in the lysosome. We found that cathepsin L, a lysosomal cysteine protease, cleaves GCase and regulates its stability. In support of these data, GCase protein was elevated in the brain of cathepsin L-KO mice. Chemical inhibition of cathepsin L increased both GCase levels and activity in fibroblasts from patients with GD. Importantly, inhibition of cathepsin L in dopaminergic neurons from a patient GBA1-PD led to increased GCase levels and activity as well as reduced phosphorylated α-synuclein. These results suggest that targeting cathepsin L-mediated GCase degradation represents a potential therapeutic strategy for GCase deficiency in PD and related disorders that exhibit decreased GCase activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere169594
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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