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J Neurosci. 2003 Sep 3;23(22):8125-34.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor activation of NFAT (nuclear factor of activated T-cells)-dependent transcription: a role for the transcription factor NFATc4 in neurotrophin-mediated gene expression.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


A member of the neurotrophin family, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) regulates neuronal survival and differentiation during development. Within the adult brain, BDNF is also important in neuronal adaptive processes, such as the activity-dependent plasticity that underlies learning and memory. These long-term changes in synaptic strength are mediated through alterations in gene expression. However, many of the mechanisms by which BDNF is linked to transcriptional and translational regulation remain unknown. Recently, the transcription factor NFATc4 (nuclear factor of activated T-cells isoform 4) was discovered in neurons, where it is believed to play an important role in long-term changes in neuronal function. Interestingly, NFATc4 is particularly sensitive to the second messenger systems activated by BDNF. Thus, we hypothesized that NFAT-dependent transcription may be an important mediator of BDNF-induced plasticity. In cultured rat CA3-CA1 hippocampal neurons, BDNF activated NFAT-dependent transcription via TrkB receptors. Inhibition of calcineurin blocked BDNF-induced nuclear translocation of NFATc4, thus preventing transcription. Further, phospholipase C was a critical signaling intermediate between BDNF activation of TrkB and the initiation of NFAT-dependent transcription. Both inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate (IP3)-mediated release of calcium from intracellular stores and activation of protein kinase C were required for BDNF-induced NFAT-dependent transcription. Finally, increased expression of IP3 receptor 1 and BDNF after neuronal exposure to BDNF was linked to NFAT-dependent transcription. These results suggest that NFATc4 plays a crucial role in neurotrophin-mediated synaptic plasticity.

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