Calpains, skeletal muscle function and exercise Academic Article uri icon


  • 1. Skeletal muscle fibres contain ubiquitous (mu-calpain and m-calpain) and muscle-specific (calpain-3) Ca(2+)-dependent proteases. The physiological roles of the calpains are not well understood, although ubiquitous calpains have been associated with apoptosis and myogenesis and calpain-3 is likely involved in sarcomeric remodelling. A defect in the expression of calpain-3 results in limb-girdle muscular dystrophy Type 2A. 2. At resting [Ca(2+)](i), calpains are present predominantly in their full-length, unautolysed/unactivated forms. Once activated, mu-calpain and calpain-3 appear in their autolysed forms and this measurement can be used to determine when in vivo activation occurs. Endogenously expressed mu-calpain and calpain-3 are activated within a physiological [Ca(2+)] range in a Ca(2+)- and time-dependent manner. 3. In skeletal muscle, mu-calpain is a freely diffusible protein that binds rapidly when [Ca(2+)](i) is increased. Calpain-3 is tightly bound in skeletal muscle fibres at the N2A line of the large elastic protein titin. 4. Overall, neither mu-calpain nor calpain-3 are activated immediately following sprint, endurance or eccentric exercise, despite the frequent episodes of high cytoplasmic [Ca(2+)] that would occur during these types of muscle contractions. Importantly, however, a substantial proportion of calpain-3, but not mu-calpain, is activated 24 h after a single bout of eccentric exercise. 5. In vitro studies have shown that calpain-3 becomes activated if exposed for a prolonged period of time (> 1 h) to resting cytoplasmic [Ca(2+)] that are approximately two- to fourfold higher than normal. This suggests that the small but sustained increase in [Ca(2+)](i) that likely occurs after eccentric contractions is both high and long enough to result in calpain-3 activation and supports the role for calpain-3 in sarcomeric remodelling.

publication date

  • March 2010