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Three genes expressing Kunitz domains in the epididymis are related to genes of WFDC-type protease inhibitors and semen coagulum proteins in spite of lacking similarity between their protein products

Adam Clauss13, Margareta Persson1, Hans Lilja12 and Åke Lundwall1*

Author Affiliations

1 Lund University, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Clinical Chemistry, Skåne University Hospital, SE-205 02 Malmö, Sweden

2 Departments of Clinical Laboratories, Surgery, and Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Avenue, New York, NY, 10065, NY, USA

3 Karolinska Institute, Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Hospital, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Biochemistry 2011, 12:55  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-12-55

Published: 11 October 2011



We have previously identified a locus on human chromosome 20q13.1, encompassing related genes of postulated WFDC-type protease inhibitors and semen coagulum proteins. Three of the genes with WFDC motif also coded for the Kunitz-type protease inhibitor motif. In this report, we have reinvestigated the locus for homologous genes encoding Kunitz motif only. The identified genes have been analyzed with respect to structure, expression and function.


We identified three novel genes; SPINT3, SPINT4 and SPINT5, and the structure of their transcripts were determined by sequencing of DNA generated by rapid amplification of cDNA ends. Each gene encodes a Kunitz domain preceded by a typical signal peptide sequence, which indicates that the proteins of 7.6, 8.7, and 9.7 kDa are secreted. Analysis of transcripts in 26 tissues showed that the genes predominantly are expressed in the epididymis. The recombinantly produced proteins could not inhibit the amidolytic activity of trypsin, chymotrypsin, plasmin, thrombin, coagulation factor Xa, elastase, urokinase and prostate specific antigen, whereas similarly made bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor (BPTI) had the same bioactivity as the protein isolated from bovine pancreas.


The similar organization, chromosomal location and site of expression, suggests that the novel genes are homologous with the genes of WFDC-type protease inhibitors and semen coagulum proteins, despite the lack of similarity in primary structure of their protein products. Their restricted expression to the epididymis suggests that they could be important for male reproduction. The recombinantly produced proteins are presumably bioactive, as demonstrated with similarly made BPTI, but may have a narrower spectrum of inhibition, as indicated by the lacking activity against eight proteases with differing specificity. Another possibility is that they have lost the protease inhibiting properties, which is typical of Kunitz domains, in favor of hitherto unknown functions.