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Cardiovasc Res. 2012 Oct 1;96(1):32-7. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvs163. Epub 2012 May 11.

Calpains, mitochondria, and apoptosis.

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Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences, Center for Cell Death, Injury, and Regeneration, Medical University of South Carolina, 280 Calhoun Street, MSC140, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Mitochondrial activity is critical for efficient function of the cardiovascular system. In response to cardiovascular injury, mitochondrial dysfunction occurs and can lead to apoptosis and necrosis. Calpains are a 15-member family of Ca(2+)-activated cysteine proteases localized to the cytosol and mitochondria, and several have been shown to regulate apoptosis and necrosis. For example, in endothelial cells, Ca(2+) overload causes mitochondrial calpain 1 cleavage of the Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchanger leading to mitochondrial Ca(2+) accumulation. Also, activated calpain 1 cleaves Bid, inducing cytochrome c release and apoptosis. In renal cells, calpains 1 and 2 promote apoptosis and necrosis by cleaving cytoskeletal proteins, which increases plasma membrane permeability and cleavage of caspases. Calpain 10 cleaves electron transport chain proteins, causing decreased mitochondrial respiration and excessive activation, or inhibition of calpain 10 activity induces mitochondrial dysfunction and apoptosis. In cardiomyocytes, calpain 1 activates caspase 3 and poly-ADP ribose polymerase during tumour necrosis factor-α-induced apoptosis, and calpain 1 cleaves apoptosis-inducing factor after Ca(2+) overload. Many of these observations have been elucidated with calpain inhibitors, but most calpain inhibitors are not specific for calpains or a specific calpain family member, creating more questions. The following review will discuss how calpains affect mitochondrial function and apoptosis within the cardiovascular system.

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