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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37084. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037084. Epub 2012 May 16.

Calpain activity is essential in skin wound healing and contributes to scar formation.

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Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, UMRS938, Paris, France.


Wound healing is a multistep phenomenon that relies on complex interactions between various cell types. Calpains are ubiquitously expressed proteases regulating several processes including cellular adhesion and motility as well as inflammation and angiogenesis. Calpains can be targeted by inhibitors, and their inhibition was shown to reduce organ damage in various disease models. We aimed to assess the role of calpains in skin healing and the potential benefit of calpain inhibition on scar formation. We used a pertinent model where calpain activity is inhibited only in lesional organs, namely transgenic mice overexpressing calpastatin (CPST), a specific natural calpain inhibitor. CPST mice showed a striking delay in wound healing particularly in the initial steps compared to wild types (WT). CPST wounds displayed reduced proliferation in the epidermis and delayed re-epithelization. Granulation tissue formation was impaired in CPST mice, with a reduction in CD45+ leukocyte infiltrate and in CD31+ blood vessel density. Interestingly, wounds on WT skin grafted on CPST mice (WT/CPST) showed a similar delayed healing with reduced angiogenesis and inflammation compared to wounds on WT/WT mice demonstrating the implication of calpain activity in distant extra-cutaneous cells during wound healing. CPST wounds showed a reduction in alpha-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) expressing myofibroblasts as well as αSMA RNA expression suggesting a defect in granulation tissue contraction. At later stages of skin healing, calpain inhibition proved beneficial by reducing collagen production and wound fibrosis. In vitro, human fibroblasts exposed to calpeptin, a pan-calpain inhibitor, showed reduced collagen synthesis, impaired TGFβ-induced differentiation into αSMA-expressing myofibroblasts, and were less efficient in a collagen gel contraction assay. In conclusion, calpains are major players in granulation tissue formation. In view of their specific effects on fibroblasts a late inhibition of calpains should be considered for scar reduction.

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