Being a part of our digestive system, trypsin works to break down proteins, making it an enzyme called protease. Initially, protease is created in the pancreas in the form of a bigger inactive molecule and subsequently carried to the small intestine. Inside the intestine, this enzyme gets activated and begins digesting the ingested food molecules. In addition, protease also regulates several other digestive processes. Absence of protease production in our pancreas results in a digestive disorder known as cystic fibrosis.

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Inside the stomach, proteases partially break down foods composed of different amounts of proteins and the smaller particles of food are then carried to the small intestine. Basically, protease is also a type of enzyme that accelerates the process of breaking down proteins in ingested foods. As we are all aware, amino acids form the basis of proteins and these are connected together by means of peptide bonds. The final objective of digesting proteins is to break them down into amino acids. Subsequently, the amino acids are utilized in the metabolic process in the cells.

Initially, trypsin is produced in the pancreas as trypsinogen, which is a zymogen (an enzyme precursor molecule). Trypsinogen is a relatively larger molecule that remains inactive till it gets into the small intestine and enteropeptidase acts on it. Enteropeptidases are also a type of protease. When enteropeptidase has acted on trypsinogen, it can activate itself on its own. Aside from breaking down proteins during the digestive process, trypsinogen also works to activate several other zymogens. Since trypsinogen activates several proteases, it plays an important role in the digestive process. Pancreatic juice encloses an inhibitor that interferes with the activities of trypsin all the while during it is in the pancreas.

Trypsin, together with several other proteases like chymotrypsin, belongs to a class called serine proteases. Proteases belonging to this class comprise endopeptidases. When they are inside a protein molecule, these proteases slash rather than gnaw at the ends.

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In many ways, trypsin and chymotrypsin are akin to one another in many ways, such as chemical composition and structure. However, they are different too. Their preference for substrates is entirely different. While the amino acids lysine and arginine cleaves trypsin, chymotrypsin has a preference for tyrosine, tryptophan and phenylalanine. Both these proteases are in their best when they are in a neutral pH environment, such as that in the small intestine.

The absence of trypsin as well as other digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas is known to be a key factor for developing a digestive disorder known as cystic fibrosis. When this happens it results in interferences in the intestines to gather as well as take up nutrients from the ingested foods. Usually, all newborns are examined to find the presence of trypsin in their blood stream. An elevated level of this enzyme in the blood stream is an indication of the fact that the baby may develop cystic fibrosis. For other people, cystic fibrosis can be diagnosed by examining their stool. In case the results of the test are negative, more tests need to be undertaken.

Trypsin works as a catalyst in the hydrolysis process of peptide bonds inside the duodenum by degrading proteins in much smaller peptides. Subsequently, these peptides are hydrolyzed further by other proteases to form amino acids so that they can be taken up by the blood stream. In fact, tryptic digestion is an essential step in the absorption of proteins, because generally proteins are very large and, hence the blood stream cannot absorb them via the linings inside the small intestine.

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Our pancreas produces trypsin in the form of an inert zymogen trypsinogen. Following stimulation by cholecystokinin, the pancreas secretes this enzyme along with other pancreatic juices through the pancreatic duct into the duodenum, which is the opening of the small intestine. When trypsin is introduced into the small intestine, another enzyme called enteropeptidase converts the inactive trypsinogen into an active trypsin via proteolytic cleavage. Aside from this, trypsin can also auto catalyze when trypsinogen is used in the form of a substrate. This means of activation is very common for nearly all serine proteases. When this happens it helps to put off any type of activation and protects the pancreas from auto degradation.

Health benefits

Trypsin is an enzyme that digests or breaks down proteins. This enzyme is secreted into the small intestine along with pancreatic juices when one is eating a meal. It is secreted by the pancreas in the form of a dormant proenzyme known as trypsinogen. When this enzyme is released in the intestine, another enzyme known as enteropeptidase is released from the cells present in the intestine. Enteropeptidase separates a little portion of trypsinogen to activate the trypsin enzyme. When trypsin is activated, it aids in breaking down proteins in the ingested foods. In addition, trypsin also makes other trypsinogen molecules active. At the same time, a number of other enzymes that help to break down proteins are secreted into the small intestine along with the pancreatic juice in the form proenzymes. As a result, trypsin is extremely necessary for the normal functioning of our digestive processes, which are responsible for converting proteins in ingested foods into amino acids. Eventually, these amino acids are taken up by the body.

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Trypsin inhibitors can be described as compounds having the aptitude to firmly bind to trypsin and interfere with the enzyme's ability to digest or break down proteins. Bowman-Birk inhibitors present in soybeans as well as a number of other cereal grain seeds and legumes are an example of common organic dietary substances which interfere with the activities of trypsin. Consuming excessive amounts of foods that contain trypsin inhibitors may reduce the nutritional value of the proteins in the foods you eat. However, when you cook such foods, it basically makes the dietary trypsin inhibitors inactive. Moreover, our pancreatic cells also produce another form of trypsin inhibitor which also obstructs the activation of premature trypsin as well as other enzymes that break down proteins. This occurs when these enzymes are in the pancreas and have not been released into the duodenum. When this occurs, it puts of the self-digesting ability of the pancreas.

There are a number of individuals who are born with some kind of mutation in parts of their genetic matter, which codes production of trypsinogen in the pancreas. Such mutations are inherited disorders and they can change the structure of trypsinogen, thereby creating a condition wherein the activation of trypsinogen to trypsin is not regulated properly any more. As a result, the trypsin inhibitor tissues also do not function properly. However, some parts of the pancreas may still be able to self-digest, resulting in pancreatitis, a condition wherein the pancreas is inflamed. Sometimes consumption of excessive alcohol or a gallstone blocking the duct of the pancreas secreting its juices and enzymes may also lead to improper activation of trypsin as well as pancreatic inflammation. It is worth mentioning here that acute pancreatitis is a health disorder which may result in irreversible damage to the tissues and even put off the secretions necessary to carry out the regular digestive processes.

Aside from the pancreas, trypsin is also found in other tissues, albeit in smaller amounts. These include the skin, digestive organs, liver, kidneys, immune system and the brain cells. In these tissues, trypsin may be engaged in a number of common cell processes.

While the precise role of trypsin in combating cancer is yet to be ascertained, trypsin as well as tumour associated trypsin inhibitors can be manufactured at high levels in the carcinogenic tissues. Enhanced production of such inhibitors in carcinogenic tissues may be related with poor cancer prediction.


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