Calcium-activated proteolysis mediated by the protease inhibitor, calpain, has recently been implicated in the pathogenesis of cerebral vasospasm. The effect of one inhibitor of calcium-activated proteolysis, z-Leu-Phe-CONH-morpholene (zLF), on cerebrovascular constriction was examined in two experimental paradigms. In the first paradigm, the rabbit basilar artery (BA) was visualized via a transclival exposure, and its diameter was monitored using videomicroscopy. In the second experimental paradigm two intracisternal injections of autologous blood were administered to mimic a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). The BA was visualized via the transclival exposure, and its luminal diameter was measured. Topical application of oxyhemoglobin (OxyHb), a known pathogenic agent in cerebral vasospasm, elicited vasoconstriction in normal animals, reducing arterial diameter to approximately 75% of resting levels. Pretreatment with zLF (100, 200, or 300 μM) attenuated vasoconstriction induced by OxyHb. In an experimental model of SAH, the diameter of the BA was reduced after the first injection of blood to approximately 67% of normal resting levels when measured 3 to 4 days later. This vasospastic response was reversed significantly by topical application of zLF (100 μM); vascular diameter was increased to approximately 84% of normal resting levels.
These findings demonstrate that both acute OxyHb-induced constriction and blood-induced vasospasm are sensitive to an inhibitor of the proteolytic enzyme, calpain. Together, these observations indicate an important role for calcium-activated proteolysis in the development and maintenance of vasospasm after SAH. In addition, it may be inferred from the data that inhibitors of calcium-activated proteolysis may be useful therapeutic agents for treating this form of cerebrovascular disease.