Background: μ-calpain and m-calpain are ubiquitously expressed proteases implicated in cellular migration, cell cycle progression, degenerative processes and cell death. These heterodimeric enzymes are composed of distinct catalytic subunits, encoded by Capn1 (μ-calpain) or Capn2 (m-calpain), and a common regulatory subunit encoded by Capn4. Disruption of the mouse Capn4 gene abolished both μ-calpain and m-calpain activity, and resulted in embryonic lethality, thereby suggesting essential roles for one or both of these enzymes during mammalian embryogenesis. Disruption of the Capn1 gene produced viable, fertile mice implying that either m-calpain could compensate for the loss of μ-calpain, or that the loss of m-calpain was responsible for death of Capn4-/- mice.
Results: To distinguish between the alternatives described above, we deleted an essential coding region in the mouse Capn2 gene in embryonic stems cells and transmitted this mutant allele through the mouse germline. Breeding of heterozygous animals failed to produce homozygous mutant live offspring or implanted embryos. A nested PCR genotyping protocol was established, and homozygous preimplantation mutant embryos were detected at the morula but not at the blastocysts stage.
Conclusion: We conclude that homozygous disruption of the Capn2 gene results in preimplantation embryonic lethality between the morula and blastocyst stage. This establishes that μ-calpain and m-calpain have distinct functions, and that m-calpain is vital for development of the preimplantation murine embryo.