Pepsin properties, structure, and its accurate measurement: a narrative review

Kyle J. Stanforth, Matthew D. Wilcox*, Peter I. Chater, Iain A. Brownlee, Maria I. Zakhour, Katherine M. R. M. Banecki, Jeffery P. Pearson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
291 Downloads (Pure)


Pepsin is an aspartate protease that is generated from its proenzyme, pepsinogen by autocatalysis initiated by a fall in pH below 5. Human gastric juice contains eight isoenzymes of pepsin. The peptides released on conversion of pepsinogen to pepsin of which there are potentially five, have been shown to have antimicrobial activity against a wide range of bacteria including Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus which have also been shown to have biofilm formation inhibiting properties. The stability in response to changes in pH varies between pepsin and pepsinogen. Pepsinogen is stable up to pH 10, pepsin is only stable to pH just above 7.0 and is completely denatured at pH 8.0. Many diseases of the aerodigestive tract have been linked to reflux and the presence of pepsin. Therefore, the measurement of pepsin in tissue and lavages or in saliva or sputum, could be a good screening tool for the diagnosis of reflux related disease. However, there is no current consensus as to the best methods to measure it or the best time to sample it. For an effective pepsin ELISA, the following is required; a monoclonal/monospecific polyclonal antibody with a good lowest level of detection (LLOD) and sensitivity 1–25 ng/mL (depending on dilution) and an adequate supply of purified human pepsin as a standard for antibody-based assays. If possible, an activity assay for pepsin should also be used as the presence of pepsin protein does not indicate it is capable of damaging activity. Finally, if pepsin is associated with a disease large studies are required to confirm it with multiple samples. This review deals with several studies where pepsin quantitation is attempted, and their measurement techniques assessed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Esophagus
Early online date22 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2022


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