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Calcineurin Pathway

The differentiation of keratinocytes constantly replenishes the upper layers of human skin we lose each day. One factor that contributes to terminal keratinocyte differentiation is increased levels of intracellular calcium. Adding calcium to the medium of cultured keratinocytes elevates intracellular calcium and triggers differentiation. Intracellular calcium levels are also increased in response to phospholipase C activation, producing IP3 and releasing calcium from stores in the ER. Intracellular calcium alters multiple signaling pathways, one of which is binding to calmodulin to activate the serine-threonine protein phosphatase calcineurin. Calcineurin dephosphorylates and activates the transcription factor NFAT and both calcineurin and NFAT are expressed in differentiating keratinocytes. Activated NFAT can regulate transcription through binding its own cognate DNA binding site. One marker of keratinocyte differentiation, the p21 gene, is activated by NFAT by a different mechanism, with NFAT activating the p21 promoter by acting as a coactivator for the transcription factors Sp1 and Sp3.Another protein activated by calcium that may be involved in keratinocyte differentiation is protein kinase C (PKC). One substrate of activated PKC is MARCKS (myristoylated alanine-rich kinase C substrate). Phosphorylation of MARCKS by PKC in intact keratinocytes is not induced during calcium-induced differentiation, but does increase when tested in vitro. PKC activity is increased by calcium during keratinocyte differentiation but PKC MARCKS phosphorylation is blocked by the formation of a complex between calmodulin and MARCKS. The immunosuppressants cyclosporin-A (CsA) and FK506 inhibit T cell activation through indirect inhibition of NFAT activation and have several side effects including changes in the skin, suggesting that calcineurin activity may play a role in normal skin physiology. CsA is used to treat psoriasis, a disease involving abnormal proliferation of skin cells. The activity of CsA in treating psoriasis may involve inhibition of immune cells, but may also directly involve inhibition of calcineurin activity in keratinocytes. [from NCI_BioC]

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Molecular Function

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