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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2003 May;42(2):169-85.

Calpain in the pathophysiology of spinal cord injury: neuroprotection with calpain inhibitors.

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Department of Neurology, Medical University of South Carolina, 96 Jonathan Lucas Street, Suite 309, P.O. Box 250606, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Spinal cord injury (SCI) evokes an increase in intracellular free Ca(2+) level resulting in activation of calpain, a Ca(2+)-dependent cysteine protease, which cleaves many cytoskeletal and myelin proteins. Calpain is widely expressed in the central nervous system (CNS) and regulated by calpastatin, an endogenous calpain-specific inhibitor. Calpastatin degraded by overactivation of calpain after SCI may lose its regulatory efficiency. Evidence accumulated over the years indicates that uncontrolled calpain activity mediates the degradation of many cytoskeletal and membrane proteins in the course of neuronal death and contributes to the pathophysiology of SCI. Cleavage of the key cytoskeletal and membrane proteins by calpain is an irreversible process that perturbs the integrity and stability of CNS cells leading to cell death. Calpain in conjunction with caspases, most notably caspase-3, can cause apoptosis of the CNS cells following trauma. Aberrant Ca(2+) homeostasis following SCI inevitably activates calpain, which has been shown to play a crucial role in the pathophysiology of SCI. Therefore, calpain appears to be a potential therapeutic target in SCI. Substantial research effort has been focused upon the development of highly specific inhibitors of calpain and caspase-3 for therapeutic applications. Administration of cell permeable and specific inhibitors of calpain and caspase-3 in experimental animal models of SCI has provided significant neuroprotection, raising the hope that humans suffering from SCI may be treated with these inhibitors in the near future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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