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J Biol Chem. 2005 Apr 15;280(15):15229-37. Epub 2005 Feb 7.

Distinct mechanistic roles of calpain and caspase activation in neurodegeneration as revealed in mice overexpressing their specific inhibitors.

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  • 1Laboratory for Proteolytic Neuroscience, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Wako, Saitama 351-0198, Japan.


Enzymatic proteolysis has been implicated in diverse neuropathological conditions, including acute/subacute ischemic brain injuries and chronic neurodegeneration such as Alzheimer disease and Parkinson disease. Calcium-dependent proteases, calpains, have been intensively analyzed in relation to these pathological conditions, but in vivo experiments have been hampered by the lack of appropriate experimental systems for a selective regulation of the calpain activity in animals. Here we have generated transgenic (Tg) mice that overexpress human calpastatin, a specific and the only natural inhibitor of calpains. In order to clarify the distinct roles of these cell death-associated cysteine proteases, we dissected neurodegenerative changes in these mice together with Tg mice overexpressing a viral inhibitor of caspases after intrahippocampal injection of kainic acid (KA), an inducer of neuronal excitotoxicity. Immunohistochemical analyses using endo-specific antibodies against calpain- and caspase-cleaved cytoskeletal components revealed that preclusion of KA-induced calpain activation can rescue the hippocampal neurons from disruption of the neuritic cytoskeletons, whereas caspase suppression has no overt effect on the neuritic pathologies. In addition, progressive neuronal loss between the acute and subacute phases of KA-induced injury was largely halted only in human calpastatin Tg mice. The animal models and experimental paradigm employed here unequivocally demonstrate their usefulness for clarifying the distinct contribution of calpain and caspase systems to molecular mechanisms governing neurodegeneration in adult brains, and our results indicate the potentials of specific calpain inhibitors in ameliorating excitotoxic neuronal damages.

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