Since calcium homeostasis is altered in cultured skin fibroblasts from aged and Alzheimer donors, the present study examined the degradation of spectrin, a substrate of the calcium dependent protease calpain. Spectrin proteolysis was estimated as the percentage of spectrin breakdown products (e.g., 150 + 155 kDa bands) per total spectrin immunoreactivity. In the baseline condition (e.g., unstimulated fibroblasts), spectrin breakdown was 53% greater in cells from aged donors when compared to cells from either young or Alzheimer donors. Compared to unstimulated cells, serum increased spectrin breakdown in cells from aged (22.4%) or Alzheimer (92.1%) donors but was ineffective in cells from young donors. Thus, when compared to young donors (100%), serum stimulation increased spectrin proteolysis by 183.9% (aged) or 231.7% (Alzheimer) after serum stimulation. Treatment of unstimulated cells with carbonyl cyanide 4-trifluoromethoxy-phenylhydrazone (FCCP), an uncoupler of mitochondrial function, increased spectrin degradation by 360.6% (young), 242.4% (aged) or 239.7% (Alzheimer) when compared to unstimulated cells of the same group. The combination of FCCP and serum stimulation enhanced spectrin breakdown in cells from aged (123.6%) and Alzheimer (154.0%) donors when compared to young cells (100%). Thus, changes in the regulation of calcium dependent proteases may contribute to decreased cell spreading and may play a role in the altered cytoskeletal dynamics characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.