Platelet-driven blood clot contraction reduces and compacts clot volume, promoting hemostasis while restoring blood flow past otherwise obstructive thrombi. Clot contraction is driven by traction forces in the range of tens of pN per platelet that are generated by platelet non-muscle myosin IIa and actin on αIIbβ3 bound to extracellular fibrin fibers. In an analysis of the kinetics of thrombin-induced clot formation and contraction in platelet-rich plasma, we found that clot contraction has two discernable phases: an exponential initiation phase and a second exponential contraction phase. It is noteworthy that Azam et al (Mol Cell Biol21:2213-20, 2001) observed that deleting the µ-calpain gene in mice impairs platelet-mediated clot contraction. In this context, we found that inhibiting calpain activity with ALLM (N-Acetyl-Leu-Leu-Methional), a cell-permeable calpain inhibitor, significantly prolonged the duration of the initiation phase and decreased the kinetic rate constants for both the initiation and contraction phases of thrombin-stimulated platelet-mediated clot contraction, but without affecting the overall extent of contraction. The calpain inhibitor ALLN (N-acetyl-Leu-Leu-Norleu) had the same effect. Thus, these studies imply that activation of platelet calpain facilitates the transmission of traction forces from the platelet cytoskeleton to the αIIbβ3 bound to fibrin fibers. μ-Calpain is calcium-dependent cytosolic neutral cysteine protease that is activated 30-60 seconds after the onset of platelet aggregation stimulated by platelet agonists such as thrombin. To identify the calpain-cleaved protein or proteins involved in clot contraction, we incubated washed human platelets with the thrombin activation peptide TRAP in the presence or absence of calpain inhibitors and identified calpain-cleaved proteins using subtiligase-mediated biotin-labeling of nascent N-termini followed by mass spectrometry. We identified 32 proteins in the platelet cytosol that undergo calpain-mediated cleavage after TRAP stimulation. Many of these are cytoskeletal proteins, most prominently talin which connects integrins to the cytoskeleton and vinculin which is required for myosin-contractility-dependent effects on traction force and adhesion strength. Accordingly, we focused our attention on these two proteins. Talin, a 250 kD protein, is composed of a 45 kD N-terminal head domain attached via a flexible linker to a 200 kD C-terminal rod domain. The rod domain consists of 62 amphipathic α-helices organized into a series of four- and five-helix bundles. Vinculin is a 116 kD protein composed of 5 domains and has an autoinhibited structure in which domains 1-3 bind to domain 5. We detected 8 calpain-mediated cleavages in talin, 2 previously identified cleavage sites in unstructured regions and 6 others in α-helical regions known to interact with other proteins. Four of the latter are located within the first 12 talin helices, a region that contains four vinculin binding sites (VBSs). Likewise, the remaining two cleavage sites are in proximity to a VBS. A VBS is a vinculin-binding α-helix that is buried in a helical bundle due to extensive hydrophobic interactions with other amphipathic helices. Because VBS are packed into the interior of a helical bundle, a structural rearrangement is required to initiate vinculin binding. Using magnetic tweezers and atomic force microscopy, del Rio et al demonstrated that force-induced stretching of single talin rod molecules activates VBSs (Science323:638-41, 2009)), implying that stretching causes the conformational change required to expose buried VBSs. Thus, based on the location of the calpain-mediated cleavages in talin, we hypothesize that by cleaving talin in proximity to a VBS, calpain facilitates vinculin to binding talin, thereby strengthening the coupling of fibrin-bound αIIbβ3 to the platelet cytoskeleton to promote fibrin clot contraction.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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