To gain knowledge about the behaviour of calpastatin (the specific inhibitor of the Ca2+-dependent thiol protease calpain) in the intact cell, we analysed the inhibitor by specific antibodies and determined its activity in erythrocytes from individuals 20-34 years old (young) and 70-93 years old (old). Differences between old and young in the behaviour of erythrocyte calpastatin were observed. Erythrocytes of old individuals had lower amounts of calpastatin and less calpastatin activity than those of young ones. A difference between old and young was also found in the molecular-mass distribution of calpastatin subunits. Increasing the erythrocyte Ca2+ induced changes in calpastatin in young individuals, rendering it similar to calpastatin in cells of old individuals. When calpastatin (isolated from erythrocytes of a young individual) was added to erythrocyte membranes, the initial binding and subsequent association of calpastatin with the membrane were lower in old than in young individuals. We had previously found that calpain binding and activation were enhanced in erythrocyte membranes from old individuals, along with enhanced degradation of band 3 (a major erythrocyte transmembrane anion-transport protein). The overall results indicate an interaction of calpain with calpastatin in the intact cell. Enhanced activation of erythrocyte calpain and degradation of calpastatin occur under conditions of increased cellular Ca2+ and in cells of the aged.