September 1, 2011

Cathepsins are proteins in the human body that break apart other proteins.  Cathepsin S (CTSS) is a protein that is encoded with the CTSS gene. A recent report of the results of a study involving cathepsin S suggests that it is involved in the complex pathways that lead to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The study involved elderly men and elderly women from Sweden. Those with higher levels of cathepsin S in their blood had an increased risk of death and an increased risk of death from cancer, even after adjusting for factors such as age, lifestyle, and cardiovascular risk factors. The study suggested that cathepsin S may be involved in the pathological processes that lead to cardiovascular disease, to cancer, and to death.

Presently, it is unknown what factors influence the levels of cathepsin S in the bloodstream although prior studies have found higher levels associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Weight loss can help reduce the level of cathepsin S in the blood.

Higher levels of cathepsin S are known to be associated with increased inflammatory activity in the body. Prior studies have suggested that cathepsin S is involved with the development of cardiovascular disease by promoting atherosclerotic plagues and by destabilizing advanced plaques, and that cathepsin S is involved in the development of cancer by stimulating the spread of cancer cells and tumor growth.

The study could not establish causality between the level of cathepsin S in blood and mortality but does suggest that the association between cathepsin S and mortality may result from the role of cathepsin S at different stages in the atherosclerotic process;  cathepsin S is greatly involved in different malignant tissue and is involved in the progression of cancer; and, cathepsin S is involved in the inflammatory process and in metabolic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, which are known to involve higher risk of mortality. The role of cathepsin S in these scurges has led to drug companies’ interest in developing medications that may inhibit cathepsin S.


A Dark Side To This Research?

While the findings of this recent study and prior studies may lead to a better understanding of the association between cathepsin S and cardiovascular disease and cancer deaths, and may lead to increased interest in developing drugs that could affect the level of cathepsin S in the bloodstream, there is a dark, more sinister side to the research and findings that this study did not address: insurance companies, such as health insurance carriers, life insurance companies, and long-term disability insurance providers may well be interested in finding out the level of cathepsin S in the bloodstream of their insurance applicants so that they can make decisions whether to issue insurance policies, place limits on the amounts of insurance policies, or otherwise restrict the coverage of insurance policies based on the blood levels of cathepsin S.

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