Much attention has been paid to proteinases derived from not only neurons but also microglia in relation to neuronal death. There is accumulating evidence that intra- and extracellular proteinases in these cells are part of the basic machinery of neuronal death pathways. Some members of the ced-3/interleukin-1β converting enzyme (ICE) (caspase) family of cysteine proteinases have been thought to play a major role in apoptosis of not only non-neuronal cells but also neurons. Calpain has also been demonstrated to be a mediator of the neurodegenerative response. Recent studies have shown that excitotoxic and ischemic neuronal injury could be attenuated by inhibitors of caspases and calpain. Several recent studies have suggested the involvement of endosomal/lysosomal proteinases, including cathepsins B, D and E, in neuronal death induced by excitotoxins and ischemia. Furthermore, it has been reported that the extracellular tissue- type plasminogen activator/plasmin proteolytic cascade is involved in excitotoxic injury of the hippocampal neurons. In addition to such neuronal proteinases, microglial proteinases are believed to be important for the modification of neuronal functions positively or negatively. Cathepsins E and S derived from microglia have been suggested to contribute to neuronal survival through degradation and removal of β-amyloid, damaged neurons and cellular debris. On the other hand, 6-hydroxydopamine-induced microglial cell death was inhibited by inhibitors of aspartic proteinases and caspases, suggesting the involvement of cathepsins E and D and caspases in microglial cell death. Therefore, identification of which proteinases play a causative role in neuronal death execution and clarification of the regulators and substrates for such proteinases is very important for understanding the molecular basis of the neuronal death pathways and to develop novel neuroprotective agents.
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