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

84 Scopus citations


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 plus-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 plus dependent. Here we show that in both of these examples of glutamate receptor-mediated toxicity, activation of a calpainlike 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 NG-nitro-L-arginine was also protective of cerebellar and hippocampal neurons, as was the combination of MDL-28170 and NG-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)1259-1266
Number of pages8
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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