Activation of cytosolic calpain, not caspase, is underlying mechanism for hypoxic RGC damage in human retinal explants

Momoko Kobayashi-Otsugu, Kana Orihara, Emi Nakajima, Thomas R. Shearer, Mitsuyoshi Azuma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


PURPOSE. Activation of proteolytic enzymes, calpains and caspases, have been observed in many models of retinal disease. We previously demonstrated calpain activation in monkey retinal explants cultured under hypoxia. However, cellular responses are often species-specific. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether calpains or caspase-3 was involved in retinal ganglion cell (RGC) damage caused by hypoxia/reoxygenation in human retinal explants. The explant model was improved by use of an oxygen-controlled chamber. METHODS. Human and monkey retinal explants were cultured under hypoxic conditions in an oxygen-controlled chamber and then reoxygenated. Calpain inhibitor SNJ-1945 was maintained throughout the culture period. Immunohistochemistry and immunoblotting were performed for calpains 1 and 2, calpastatin, α-spectrin, calpain-specific α-spectrin breakdown product at 150 kDa (SBDP150), caspase-3, and apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). Propidium iodide (PI) staining measured membrane disruption, and TUNEL staining detected DNA fragmentation. RESULTS. Activation of calpains in nerve fibers and increases of PI-positive RGCs were observed in retinal explants incubated for 16-hour hypoxia/8-hour reoxygenation. Except for autolysis of calpain 2, SNJ-1945 ameliorated these changes. In longer incubations under 24-hour hypoxia/16-hour reoxygenation, TUNEL-positive cells appeared, although activated caspase-3 and truncated AIF were not observed. DNA fragmentation was inhibited by SNJ-1945. CONCLUSIONS. An improved human retinal explant model showed that calpains, not caspase-3, were involved in cell damage induced by hypoxia/reoxygenation. This finding could be relevant for patient treatment with a calpain inhibitor if calpain activation is documented in human retinal ischemic diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 5 2020


  • Calpain
  • Caspase-3
  • Human
  • Hypoxia/reoxygenation
  • Monkey
  • Retinal explant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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