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J Neurochem. 2016 Apr;137(2):253-65. doi: 10.1111/jnc.13536. Epub 2016 Mar 23.

Calpastatin inhibits motor neuron death and increases survival of hSOD1(G93A) mice.

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Nathan S. Kline Institute, Center for Dementia Research, Orangeburg, NY, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.
Department of Pathology, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.
Department of Cell Biology, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive motor neuron disease with a poorly understood cause and no effective treatment. Given that calpains mediate neurodegeneration in other pathological states and are abnormally activated in ALS, we investigated the possible ameliorative effects of inhibiting calpain over-activation in hSOD1(G93A) transgenic (Tg) mice in vivo by neuron-specific over-expression of calpastatin (CAST), the highly selective endogenous inhibitor of calpains. Our data indicate that over-expression of CAST in hSOD1(G93A) mice, which lowered calpain activation to levels comparable to wild-type mice, inhibited the abnormal breakdown of cytoskeletal proteins (spectrin, MAP2 and neurofilaments), and ameliorated motor axon loss. Disease onset in hSOD1(G93A) /CAST mice compared to littermate hSOD1(G93A) mice is delayed, which accounts for their longer time of survival. We also find that neuronal over-expression of CAST in hSOD1(G93A) transgenic mice inhibited production of putative neurotoxic caspase-cleaved tau and activation of Cdk5, which have been implicated in neurodegeneration in ALS models, and also reduced the formation of SOD1 oligomers. Our data indicate that inhibition of calpain with CAST is neuroprotective in an ALS mouse model. CAST (encoding calpastatin) inhibits hyperactivated calpain to prevent motor neuron disease operating through a cascade of events as indicated in the schematic, with relevance to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We propose that over-expression of CAST in motor neurons of hSOD1(G93A) mice inhibits activation of CDK5, breakdown of cytoskeletal proteins (NFs, MAP2 and Tau) and regulatory molecules (Cam Kinase IV, Calcineurin A), and disease-causing proteins (TDP-43, α-Synuclein and Huntingtin) to prevent neuronal loss and delay neurological deficits. In our experiments, CAST could also inhibit cleavage of Bid, Bax, AIF to prevent mitochondrial, ER and lysosome-mediated cell death mechanisms. Similarly, CAST over-expression in neurons attenuated pathological effects of TDP-43, α-synuclein and Huntingtin. These results suggest a potential value of specific small molecule inhibitors of calpains in delaying the development of ALS. Read the Editorial Highlight for this article on page 140.


Calpain; Caspase-3; Spectrin; Transgenic mice; neurofilament; oligomers

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