Calpain 3, the "gatekeeper" of proper sarcomere assembly, turnover and maintenance

Neuromuscul Disord. 2008 Dec;18(12):913-21. doi: 10.1016/j.nmd.2008.08.005. Epub 2008 Oct 29.


Calpain 3 is a member of the calpain family of calcium-dependent intracellular proteases. Thirteen years ago it was discovered that mutations in calpain 3 (CAPN3) result in an autosomal recessive and progressive form of limb girdle muscular dystrophy called limb girdle muscular dystrophy type 2A. While calpain 3 mRNA is expressed at high levels in muscle and appears to have some role in developmental processes, muscles of patients and mice lacking calpain 3 still form apparently normal muscle during prenatal development; thus, a functional calpain 3 protease is not mandatory for muscle to form in vivo but it is a pre-requisite for muscle to remain healthy. Despite intensive research in this field, the physiological substrates of the calpain 3 protein (hereafter referred to as CAPN3) and its alternatively spliced isoforms remain elusive. The existence of these multiple isoforms complicates the search for the physiological functions of CAPN3 and its pathophysiological role. In this review, we summarize the genetic and biochemical evidence that point to loss of function of the full-length isoform of CAPN3, also known as p94, as the pathogenic isoform. We also argue that its natural substrates must reside in its proximity within the sarcomere where it is stored in an inactive state anchored to titin. We further propose that CAPN3 has many attributes that make it ideally suited as a sensor of sarcomeric integrity and function, involved in its repair and maintenance. Loss of these CAPN3-mediated activities can explain the "progressive" development of muscular dystrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calpain / genetics
  • Calpain / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscular Dystrophies, Limb-Girdle / genetics
  • Muscular Dystrophies, Limb-Girdle / metabolism*
  • Muscular Dystrophies, Limb-Girdle / physiopathology
  • Mutation
  • Sarcomeres / metabolism*


  • Muscle Proteins
  • CAPN3 protein, human
  • Calpain