Calpain activation and inhibition in organotypic rat hippocampal slice cultures deprived of oxygen and glucose
It has been suggested that, after ischaemia, activation of proteases such as calpains could be involved in cytoskeletal degradation leading to neuronal cell death. In vivo, calpain inhibitors at high doses have been shown to reduce ischaemic damage and traumatic brain injury, however, the relationship between calpain activation and cell death remains unclear. We have investigated the role of calpain activation in a model of ischaemia based on organotypic hippocampal slice cultures using the appearance of spectrin breakdown products (BDPs) as a measure of calpain I activation. Calpain I activity was detected on Western blot immediately after a 1-h exposure to ischaemia. Up to 4 h post ischaemia, BDPs were found mainly in the CA1 region and appeared before uptake of the vital dye propidium iodide (PI). 24 h after the insult, BDPs were detected extensively in CA1 and CA3 pyramidal cells, all of which was PI-positive. However, there were many more PI-positive cells that did not have BDPs, indicating that the appearance of BDPs does not necessarily accompany ischaemic cell death. Inhibition of BDP formation by the broad-spectrum protease inhibitor leupeptin was not accompanied by any neuroprotective effects. The more specific and more cell-permeant calpain inhibitor MDL 28170 had a clear neuroprotective effect when added after the ischaemic insult. In contrast, when MDL 28170 was present throughout the entire pre- and post-incubation phases, PI labelling actually increased, indicating a toxic effect. These results suggest that calpain activation is not always associated with cell death and that, while inhibition of calpains can be neuroprotective under some conditions, it may not always lead to beneficial outcomes in ischaemia.