Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are important in dentinal caries, and analysis of recent data demonstrates the presence of other collagen-degrading enzymes, cysteine cathepsins, in human dentin. This study aimed to examine the presence, source, and activity of cysteine cathepsins in human caries. Cathepsin B was detected with immunostaining. Saliva and dentin cysteine cathepsin and MMP activities on caries lesions were analyzed spectrofluorometrically. Immunostaining demonstrated stronger cathepsins B in carious than in healthy dentin. In carious dentin, cysteine cathepsin activity increased with increasing depth and age in chronic lesions, but decreased with age in active lesions. MMP activity decreased with age in both active and chronic lesions. Salivary MMP activities were higher in patients with active than chronic lesions and with increasing lesion depth, while cysteine cathepsin activities showed no differences. The results indicate that, along with MMPs, cysteine cathepsins are important, especially in active and deep caries.
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