Calpains: Master Regulators of Synaptic Plasticity

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Abstract

Although calpain was proposed to participate in synaptic plasticity and learning and memory more than 30 years ago, the mechanisms underlying its activation and the roles of different substrates have remained elusive. Recent findings have provided evidence that the two major calpain isoforms in the brain, calpain-1 and calpain-2, play opposite functions in synaptic plasticity. In particular, while calpain-1 activation is the initial trigger for certain forms of synaptic plasticity, that is, long-term potentiation, calpain-2 activation restricts the extent of plasticity. Moreover, while calpain-1 rapidly cleaves regulatory and cytoskeletal proteins, calpain-2-mediated stimulation of local protein synthesis reestablishes protein homeostasis. These findings have important implications for our understanding of learning and memory and disorders associated with impairment in these processes.

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