Here we demonstrate that the presence of the L-domain in calpastatins induces biphasic interaction with calpain. Competition experiments revealed that the L-domain is involved in positioning the first inhibitory unit in close and correct proximity to the calpain active site cleft, both in the closed and in the open conformation. At high concentrations of calpastatin, the multiple EF-hand structures in domains IV and VI of calpain can bind calpastatin, maintaining the active site accessible to substrate. Based on these observations, we hypothesize that two distinct calpain-calpastatin complexes may occur in which calpain can be either fully inhibited (I) or fully active (II). In complex II the accessible calpain active site can be occupied by an additional calpastatin molecule, now a cleavable substrate. The consequent proteolysis promotes the accumulation of calpastatin free inhibitory units which are able of improving the capacity of the cell to inhibit calpain. This process operates under conditions of prolonged [Ca(2+)] alteration, as seen for instance in Familial Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (FALS) in which calpastatin levels are increased. Our findings show that the L-domain of calpastatin plays a crucial role in determining the formation of complexes with calpain in which calpain can be either inhibited or still active. Moreover, the presence of multiple inhibitory domains in native full-length calpastatin molecules provides a reservoir of potential inhibitory units to be used to counteract aberrant calpain activity.