Legumain induces oral cancer pain by biased agonism of protease-activated receptor-2

Nguyen Huu Tu, Dane D. Jensen, Bethany M. Anderson, Elyssa Chen, Nestor N. Jimenez-Vargas, Nicole N. Scheff, Kenji Inoue, Hung D. Tran, John C. Dolan, Tamaryn A. Meek, Morley D. Hollenberg, Cheng Z. Liu, Stephen J. Vanner, Malvin N. Janal, Nigel W. Bunnett, Laura E. Edgington-Mitchell, Brian L. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is one of the most painful cancers, which interferes with orofacial function including talking and eating. We report that legumain (Lgmn) cleaves protease-activated receptor-2 (PAR2) in the acidic OSCC microenvironment to cause pain. Lgmn is a cysteine protease of late endosomes and lysosomes that can be secreted; it exhibits maximal activity in acidic environments. The role of Lgmn in PAR2-dependent cancer pain is unknown. We studied Lgmn activation in human oral cancers and oral cancer mouse models. Lgmn was activated in OSCC patient tumors, compared with matched normal oral tissue. After intraplantar, facial or lingual injection, Lgmn evoked nociception in wild-type (WT) female mice but not in female mice lacking PAR2 in NaV1.8-positive neurons (Par2Nav1.8), nor in female mice treated with a Lgmn inhibitor, LI-1. Inoculation of an OSCC cell line caused mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia that was reversed by LI-1. Par2Nav1.8 and Lgmn deletion attenuated mechanical allodynia in female mice with carcinogen-induced OSCC. Lgmn caused PAR2-dependent hyperexcitability of trigeminal neurons from WT female mice. Par2 deletion, LI-1, and inhibitors of adenylyl cyclase or protein kinase A (PKA) prevented the effects of Lgmn. Under acidified conditions, Lgmn cleaved within the extracellular N terminus of PAR2 at Asn30↓Arg31, proximal to the canonical trypsin activation site. Lgmn activated PAR2 by biased mechanisms in HEK293 cells to induce Ca2+ mobilization, cAMP formation, and PKA/protein kinase D (PKD) activation, but not β-arrestin recruitment or PAR2 endocytosis. Thus, in the acidified OSCC microenvironment, Lgmn activates PAR2 by biased mechanisms that evoke cancer pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-210
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 6 2021


  • Asparaginyl endopeptidase
  • Cancer pain
  • Legumain
  • Oral cancer
  • Protease
  • Protease-activated receptor-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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