Calpains are cysteine proteinases responsible for many biological roles in muscle, including protein degradation, muscle growth, and myoblast fusion. Calpains are inhibited by calpastatin, an endogenous inhibitor. Other factors, such as variations in pH, ionic strength, and oxidation influence calpain activity. This study aimed to determine the extent to which oxidation influences calpastatin inhibition of calpain-1. A series of order of addition assays were used to determine calpain-1 calcium activation and autolysis after exposure to an oxidizing agent (N-ethylmaleimide [NEM] or hydrogen peroxide [H2O2]. In the first series, purified calpastatin was added to the assay before or after oxidizing exposure at 165mM NaCl, pH 6.5. In the second series, incubation buffer ionic strength (165mM or 295mM NaCl) was evaluated. The inhibitory activities of purified porcine calpastatin, purified human calpastatin domain I, or a subdomain B inhibitor peptide were evaluated in the third series. In the fourth series, a maleimide-polyethylene glycol molecule (MAL-PEG;MW=5000 Dalton) was used to evaluate the accessibility of free sulfhydryl groups and tagging of calpain-1 under each condition through a molecular weight shift assay. Results from this study indicate that autolysis of calpain-1, when used as an indicator of activation, occurred when the calpain-1/calpastatin complex was exposed to an oxidant or cysteine modifier such as NEM. However, when calpain-1 was exposed to the cysteine modifier before calpastatin, autolysis of calpain-1 did not occur or was significantly decrased (P < 0.05). Irreversible modification of cysteine residues by NEM prevented activation of calpain-1 in the absence of calpastatin, but if the cysteine modification is potentially reversible (H2O2), calpain-1 activity can be recovered. Results from this study indicate that when calpastatin is bound to calpain-1, calpain-1 activation can occur even after being exposed to a cysteine modifier (NEM) or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Calpain-1 is not tagged with maleimide-polyethylene glycol (MAL-PEG) in the presence of calpastatin, indicating that calpastatin blocks or covers free cysteines on calpain-1 from modification. Moreover, exposure to calpain-1/calpastatin complex with a cysteine modifier allows activation of calpain-1, indicating that the inhibitory action of calpastatin is compromised. These results indicate a regulatory role for calpastatin that is not inhibitory but protective for calpain-1.

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