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J Biol Chem. 2003 Feb 7;278(6):3825-30. Epub 2002 Nov 27.

Cystamine inhibits caspase activity. Implications for the treatment of polyglutamine disorders.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 35294-0017, USA.


Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by an abnormally expended polyglutamine domain. There is no effective treatment for HD; however, inhibition of caspase activity or prevention of mitochondria dysfunction delays disease progression in HD mouse models. Similarly administration of cystamine, which can inhibit transglutaminase, prolonged survival of HD mice, suggesting that inhibition of transglutaminase might provide a new treatment strategy. However, it has been suggested that cystamine may inhibit other thiol-dependent enzymes in addition to transglutaminase. In this study we show that cystamine inhibits recombinant active caspase-3 in a concentration-dependent manner. At low concentrations cystamine is an uncompetitive inhibitor of caspase-3 activity, becoming a non-competitive inhibitor at higher concentrations. The IC(50) for cystamine-mediated inhibition of caspase-3 activity in vitro was 23.6 microm. In situ cystamine inhibited in a concentration-dependent manner the activation of caspase-3 by different pro-apoptotic agents. Additionally, cystamine inhibited caspase-3 activity to the same extent in cell lines stably overexpressing wild type tissue transglutaminase (tTG), a mutant inactive tTG, or an antisense for tTG, demonstrating that cystamine inhibits caspase activity independently of any effects it may have on the transamidating activity of tTG. Finally, treatment with cystamine resulted in a robust increase in the levels of glutathione. These findings demonstrate that cystamine may prolong neuronal survival and delay the onset of HD by inhibiting caspases and increasing the level of antioxidants such as glutathione.

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