Complex pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease involves multiple CNS cell types. Degeneration in spinal cord neurons alongside brain has been shown to be involved in Parkinson's disease and evidenced in experimental parkinsonism. However, the mechanisms of these degenerative pathways are not well understood. To unravel these mechanisms SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells were differentiated into dopaminergic and cholinergic phenotypes, respectively, and used as cell culture model following exposure to two parkinsonian neurotoxicants MPP+ and rotenone. SNJ-1945, a cell-permeable calpain inhibitor was tested for its neuroprotective efficacy. MPP+ and rotenone dose-dependently elevated the levels of intracellular free Ca2+ and induced a concomitant rise in the levels of active calpain. SNJ-1945 pre-treatment significantly protected cell viability and preserved cellular morphology following MPP+ and rotenone exposure. The neurotoxicants elevated the levels of reactive oxygen species more profoundly in SH-SY5Y cells differentiated into dopaminergic phenotype, and this effect could be attenuated with SNJ-1945 pre-treatment. In contrast, significant levels of inflammatory mediators cyclooxygenase-2 (Cox-2 and cleaved p10 fragment of caspase-1) were up-regulated in the cholinergic phenotype, which could be dose-dependently attenuated by the calpain inhibitor. Overall, SNJ-1945 was efficacious against MPP+ or rotenone-induced reactive oxygen species generation, inflammatory mediators, and proteolysis. A post-treatment regimen of SNJ-1945 was also examined in cells and partial protection was attained with calpain inhibitor administration 1–3 h after exposure to MPP+ or rotenone. Taken together, these results indicate that calpain inhibition is a valid target for protection against parkinsonian neurotoxicants, and SNJ-1945 is an efficacious calpain inhibitor in this context.
SH-SY5Y cells, differentiated as dopaminergic (TH positive) and cholinergic (ChAT positive), were used as in vitro models for Parkinson's disease. MPP+ and rotenone induced up-regulation of calpain, expression, and activity as a common mechanism of neurodegeneration. SNJ-1945, a novel calpain inhibitor, protected both the cell phenotypes against MPP+ and rotenone.