Abstract Excitotoxic insults can lead to intracellular signaling cascades that contribute to cell death, in part by activation of proteases, phospholipases, and endonucleases. Cysteine proteases, such as calpains, are calcium (Ca2+)-activated enzymes which degrade cytoskeletal proteins, including microtubule-associated proteins, tubulin, and spectrin, among others. The current study used the organotypic hippocampal slice culture model to examine whether pharmacologic inhibition of cysteine protease activity inhibits N-methyl-D-aspartate- (NMDA-) induced excitotoxic (20μM NMDA) cell death and changes in synaptophysin immunoreactivity. Significant NMDA-induced cytotoxicity (as measured by propidium iodide [PI] uptake) was found in the CA1 region of the hippocampus at all timepoints examined (24, 72, 120h), an effect significantly attenuated by co-exposure to the selective NMDA receptor antagonist DL-2-Amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (APV), but not MDL-28170, a potent cysteine protease inhibitor. Results indicated sparing of NMDA-induced loss of the synaptic vesicular protein synaptophysin in all regions of the hippocampus by MDL-28170, though only at early timepoints after injury. These results suggest Ca2+-dependent recruitment of cysteine proteases within 24h of excitotoxic insult, but activation of alternative cellular degrading mechanisms after 24h. Further, these data suggest that synaptophysin may be a substrate for calpains and related proteases.