Neural-cadherin (N-cadherin), a member of the classical cadherin family of transmembrane glycoproteins, mediates cellular recognition and cell-cell adhesion through calcium-dependent homophilic interactions and plays important roles in the development and maintenance of the nervous system. Metalloproteinase is known to cleave N-cadherin, which is further cleaved by γ-secretase. The intracellular domain of N-cadherin interacts with β-catenin, and β-catenin stability is critical for cell-cell adhesion and cell survival. In the present study, we showed that N-cadherin is cleaved specifically by calpain, resulting in the generation of a novel 110 kDa fragment. The cleavage occurred in ischemic brain lesions and in vitro neural cells in the presence of NMDA and ionomycin, and was restored by calpain inhibitors but not matrix metalloproteinase or γ-secretase inhibitors. Calpain directly cleaved N-cadherin in in vitro calpain assays, and calpain inhibitors prevented its cleavage in a dose-dependent manner. Using N-cadherin deletion mutants, we found that calpain cleavage sites exist in at least four regions of the cytoplasmic domain. Treatment with NMDA induced neuronal death, and it suppressed the expression of surface N-cadherin and the N-cadherin/β-catenin interaction, effects that were prevented by calpain inhibitor. Furthermore, calpain-mediated N-cadherin cleavage significantly affected cell-cell adhesion, AKT signaling, the N-cadherin/β-catenin interaction and the Wnt target gene expressions through the accumulation of nuclear β-catenin.
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