Delayed antagonism of calpain reduces excitotoxicity in cultured neurons

James R. Brorson*, Charles J. Marcuccilli, Richard J. Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose: Glutamate receptor antagonists can produce protection against the neurotoxicity of excessive glutamate stimulation. However, antagonism of the postreceptor processes that produce cell damage may provide a longer window of opportunity for protecting neurons after the initiation of excitotoxic injury. Among various processes that have been thought to mediate the toxic effects of glutamate are activation of the Ca2+-dependent proteases calpain I and II and the activation of nitric oxide synthase. We tested the potential for neuroprotection by delayed application of calpain antagonists after excitotoxic treatment. Methods: Primary cultures of cerebellar and hippocampal neurons were exposed to the glutamate receptor agonists kainate and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) for 20- minute periods, and survival was examined by fluorescent assay after 24 hours. Enzyme antagonists were applied at various time points during this interval. Results: The neurotoxic effects of NMDA in cultured hippocampal neurons and of kainate in cultured cerebellar neurons have been previously shown to be Ca2+ dependent. Here we show that in both of these examples of glutamate receptor-mediated toxicity, activation of a calpain-like proteolytic activity occurred, which was blocked by the calpain inhibitor MDL-28170. This inhibitor also limited the toxicity, even when applied at times up to 1 hour after the onset of the toxic exposure. Another protease inhibitor, E-64, also blocked the proteolysis and toxicity produced by kainate in cerebellar neurons. Blocking nitric oxide synthase activity after 1 hour with the antagonist N(G)-nitro-L-arginine was also protective of cerebellar and hippocampal neurons, as was the combination of MDL-28170 and N(G)-nitro-L-arginine. Conclusions: The activation of calpain is among several enzymatic processes that contribute to the toxicity of glutamate receptor stimulation, and blocking these postreceptor mechanisms can be effective in protecting neurons from excitotoxicity at delayed time points.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1259-1267
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1995


  • calpain
  • excitotoxicity
  • glutamates
  • neuroprotection
  • nitric oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing


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