• Calpain-Independent Intracellular Protease Activity Is Elevated in Excitotoxic Cortical Neurons Prior to Delayed Calcium Deregulation and Mitochondrial Dysfunction.

      Polster, Brian M; Mark, Karla A; Arze, Rafael; Hudson, Derek (MDPI AG, 2022-07-20)
      Glutamate excitotoxicity contributes to many neurodegenerative diseases. Excessive glutamate receptor-mediated calcium entry causes delayed calcium deregulation (DCD) that coincides with abrupt mitochondrial depolarization. We developed cA-TAT, a live-cell protease activity reporter based on a vimentin calpain cleavage site, to test whether glutamate increases protease activity in neuronal cell bodies prior to DCD. Treatment of rat cortical neurons with excitotoxic (100 µM) glutamate increased the low baseline rate of intracellular cA-TAT proteolysis by approximately three-fold prior to DCD and by approximately seven-fold upon calcium deregulation. The glutamate-induced rate enhancement prior to DCD was suppressed by glutamate receptor antagonists, but not by calpain or proteasome inhibitors, whereas DCD-stimulated proteolysis was partly attenuated by the proteasome inhibitor MG132. Further suggesting that cA-TAT cleavage is calpain-independent, cA-TAT fluorescence was observed in immortalized Capn4 knockout fibroblasts lacking the regulatory calpain subunit. About half of the neurons lost calcium homeostasis within two hours of a transient, 20 min glutamate receptor stimulation. These neurons had a significantly (49%) higher mean baseline cA-TAT proteolysis rate than those maintaining calcium homeostasis, suggesting that the unknown protease(s) cleaving cA-TAT may influence DCD susceptibility. Overall, the results indicate that excitotoxic glutamate triggers the activation of calpain-independent neuronal protease activity prior to the simultaneous loss of calcium homeostasis and mitochondrial bioenergetic function.