The calpains are a class of cellular cysteine proteases that require calcium and are functionally active at neutral pH. Calpain activation can take place in two modes: controlled activation under physiological conditions (in which only a few molecules of calpain are activated per cell), and hyperactivation under pathological conditions that involve sustained calcium overload (in which all available calpain molecules are activated). Regulated activation of calpain in the central nervous system (CNS) may be critical to synaptic function and memory formation, with possible substrates including various structural and scaffolding proteins, enzymes, and glutamate receptors. Hyperactivation of calpain in the central nervous system is generally associated with severe cellular challenge or damage. Calpain cleavage products may thus provide useful biomarkers for the presence of neurodegenerative processes or neuronal injury.