Caspase-like activity is essential for long-term synaptic plasticity in the terrestrial snail Helix


Dr P. M. Balaban, as above.


Although caspase activity in the nervous system of mollusks has not been described before, we suggested that these cysteine proteases might be involved in the phenomena of neuroplasticity in mollusks. We directly measured caspase-3 (DEVDase) activity in the Helix lucorum central nervous system (CNS) using a fluorometrical approach and showed that the caspase-3-like immunoreactivity is present in the central neurons of Helix. Western blots revealed the presence of caspase-3-immunoreactive proteins with a molecular mass of 29 kDa. Staurosporin application, routinely used to induce apoptosis in mammalian neurons through the activating cleavage of caspase-3, did not result in the appearance of a smaller subunit corresponding to the active caspase in the snail. However, it did increase the enzyme activity in the snail CNS. This suggests differences in the regulation of caspase-3 activity in mammals and snails. In the snail CNS, the caspase homolog seems to possess an active center without activating cleavage typical for mammals. In electrophysiological experiments with identified snail neurons, selective blockade of the caspase-3 with the irreversible and cell-permeable inhibitor of caspase-3 N-benzyloxycarbonyl-Asp(OMe)-Glu(OMe)-Val-Asp-(OMe)-fluoro-methylketone prevented development of the long-term stage of synaptic input sensitization, suggesting that caspase is necessary for normal synaptic plasticity in snails. The results of our study give the first direct evidence that the caspase-3-like activity is essential for long-term plasticity in the invertebrate neurons. This activity is presumably involved in removing inhibitory constraints on the storage of long-term memory.