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Biophys J. Jun 1996; 70(6): 2493–2501.
PMCID: PMC1225231

A mechanism for synaptic frequency detection through autophosphorylation of CaM kinase II.


A model for the regulation of CaM kinase II is presented based on the following reported properties of the molecule: 1) The holoenzyme is composed of 8-12 subunits, each with the same set of autophosphorylation sites; 2) Autophosphorylation at one group of sites (A sites) requires the presence of Ca2+ and causes a subunit to remain active following the removal of Ca2+; 3) Autophosphorylation at another group of sites (B sites) occurs only after the removal of Ca2+ but requires prior phosphorylation of a threshold number of A sites within the holoenzyme. Because B-site phosphorylation inhibits Ca2+/calmodulin binding, we propose that, for a given subunit, phosphorylation of a B site before an A site prevents subsequent phosphorylation at the A site and thereby locks that subunit in an inactive state. The model predicts that a threshold activation by Ca2+ will initiate an "autophosphorylation phase." Once started, intra-holoenzyme autophosphorylation will proceed, on A sites during periods of high [Ca2+] and on B sites during periods of low [Ca2+]. At "saturation," that is when every subunit has been phosphorylated on a B site, the number of phosphorylated A sites and, therefore, the kinase activity will reflect the relative durations of periods of high [Ca2+] to periods of low [Ca2+] that occurred during the autophosphorylation phase. Using a computer program designed to simulate the above mechanism, we show that the ultimate state of phosphorylation of an array of CaM kinase II molecules could be sensitive to the temporal pattern of Ca2+ pulses. We speculate that such a mechanism may allow arrays of CaM kinase II molecules in postsynaptic densities to act as synaptic frequency detectors involved in setting the direction and level of synaptic modification.

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Selected References

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