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Eur J Biochem. 2001 Mar;268(6):1518-27.

The protein kinase Cdk5. Structural aspects, roles in neurogenesis and involvement in Alzheimer's pathology.

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  • 1Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Millennium Institute for Advanced Studies in Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Faculty of Sciences, University of Chile, Nuñoa, Santiago,


A set of different protein kinases have been involved in tau phosphorylations, including glycogen synthase kinase 3beta (GSK3 beta), MARK kinase, MAP kinase, the cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) system and others. The latter system include the catalytic component Cdk5 and the regulatory proteins p35, p25 and p39. Cdk5 and its neuron-specific activator p35 are essential molecules for neuronal migration and for the laminar configuration of the cerebral cortex. Recent evidence that the Cdk5/p35 complex concentrates at the leading edge of axonal growth cones, together with the involvement of this system in the phosphorylation of neuronal microtubule-asociated proteins (MAPs), provide further support to the role of this protein kinase in regulating axonal extension in developing brain neurons. Although the aminoacid sequence of p35 has little similarity with those of normal cyclins, studies have shown that its activation domain may adopt a conformation of the cyclin-folded structure. The computed structure for Cdk5 is compatible with experimental data obtained from studies on the Cdk5/p35 complex, and has allowed predictions on the protein interacting domains. This enzyme exhibits a wide cell distribution, even though a regulated Cdk5 activity has been shown only in neuronal cells. Cdk5 has been characterized as a proline-directed Ser/Thr protein kinase, that contributes to phosphorylation of human tau on Ser202, Thr205, Ser235 and Ser404. Cdk5 is active in postmitiotic neurons, and it has been implicated in cytoskeleton assembly and its organization during axonal growth. In addition to tau and other MAPs, Cdk5 phosphorylates the high molecular weight neurofilament proteins at their C-terminal domain. Moreover, nestin, a protein that regulates cytoskeleton organization of neuronal and muscular cells during development of early embryos, and several other regulatory proteins appear to be substrates of Cdk5 and are phosphorylated by this kinase. Studies also suggest, that in addition to Cdk5 involvement in neuronal differentiation, its activity is induced during myogenesis, however, the mechanisms of how this activity is regulated during muscular differentiation has not yet been elucidated. Recent studies have shown that the beta-amyloid peptide (A beta) induces a deregulation of Cdk5 in cultured brain cells, and raises the question on the possible roles of this tau-phosphorylating protein kinase in the sequence of molecular events leading to neuronal death triggered by A beta. In this context, there are evidence that Cdk5 is involved in tau hyperphosphorylation promoted by A beta in its fibrillary form. Cdk5 inhibitors protect hippocampal neurons against both tau anomalous phosphorylations and neuronal death. The links between the studies on the Cdk5/p35 system in normal neurogenesis and its claimed participation in neurodegeneration, provide the framework to understand the regulatory relevance of this kinase system, and changes in its regulation that may be implicated in disturbances such as those occurring in Alzheimer disease.

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