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J Biol Chem. 2004 Feb 13;279(7):5947-57. Epub 2003 Nov 11.

Calpain-1 regulates Bax and subsequent Smac-dependent caspase-3 activation in neutrophil apoptosis.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Bern, CH-3010 Bern, Switzerland.


In the absence and in the resolution of inflammatory responses, neutrophils rapidly undergo spontaneous apoptosis. Here we report about a new apoptosis pathway in these cells that requires calpain-1 activation and is essential for the enzymatic activation of the critical effector caspase-3. Decreased levels of calpastatin, a highly specific intrinsic inhibitor of calpain, resulted in activation of calpain-1, but not calpain-2, in neutrophils undergoing apoptosis, a process that was blocked by a specific calpain-1 inhibitor or by intracellular delivery of a calpastatin peptide. Further support for the importance of the calpastatin-calpain system was obtained by analyzing neutrophils from patients with cystic fibrosis that exhibited delayed apoptosis, associated with markedly increased calpastatin and decreased calpain-1 protein levels compared with neutrophils from control individuals. Additional studies were designed to place calpain-1 into the hierarchy of biochemical events leading to neutrophil apoptosis. Pharmacological calpain inhibition during spontaneous and Fas receptor-induced neutrophil apoptosis prevented cleavage of Bax into an 18-kDa fragment unable to interact with Bcl-xL. Moreover, calpain blocking prevented the mitochondrial release of cytochrome c and Smac, which was indispensable for caspase-3 processing and enzymatic activation, both in the presence and absence of agonistic anti-Fas receptor antibodies. Taken together, calpastatin and calpain-1 represent critical proximal elements in a cascade of pro-apoptotic events leading to Bax, mitochondria, and caspase-3 activation, and their altered expression appears to influence the life span of neutrophils under pathologic conditions.

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