Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability worldwide. The calcium-dependent protease, calpain, has been shown to be involved in TBI-induced neuronal death. However, whereas various calpain inhibitors have been tested in several animal models of TBI, there has not been any clinical trial testing the efficacy of calpain inhibitors in human TBI. One important reason for this could be the lack of knowledge regarding the differential functions of the two major calpain isoforms in the brain, calpain-1 and calpain-2. In this study, we used the controlled cortical impact (CCI) model in mice to test the roles of calpain-1 and calpain-2 in TBI-induced neuronal death. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) with calpain activity markers performed at different time-points after CCI in wild-type and calpain-1 knock-out (KO) mice showed that calpain-1 was activated early in cortical areas surrounding the impact, within 0-8 h after CCI, whereas calpain-2 activation was delayed and was predominant during 8-72 h after CCI. Calpain-1 KO enhanced cell death, whereas calpain-2 activity correlated with the extent of cell death, suggesting that calpain-1 activation suppresses and calpain-2 activation promotes cell death following TBI. Systemic injection(s) of a calpain-2 selective inhibitor, NA101, at 1 h or 4 h after CCI significantly reduced calpain-2 activity and cell death around the impact site, reduced the lesion volume, and promoted motor and learning function recovery after TBI. Our data indicate that calpain-1 activity is neuroprotective and calpain-2 activity is neurodegenerative after TBI, and that a selective calpain-2 inhibitor can reduce TBI-induced cell death.
Keywords: TBI; calpain; cell death; neuroprotection.