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Neuroscience. 2002;112(1):51-63.

NECABs: a family of neuronal Ca(2+)-binding proteins with an unusual domain structure and a restricted expression pattern.

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Center for Basic Neuroscience, Department of Molecular Genetics, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 75235, USA.


Ca(2+)-signalling plays a major role in regulating all aspects of neuronal function. Different types of neurons exhibit characteristic differences in the responses to Ca(2+)-signals. Correlating with differences in Ca(2+)-response are expression patterns of Ca(2+)-binding proteins that often serve as markers for various types of neurons. For example, in the cerebral cortex the EF-hand Ca(2+)-binding proteins parvalbumin and calbindin are primarily expressed in inhibitory interneurons where they influence Ca(2+)-dependent responses. We have now identified a new family of proteins called NECABs (neuronal Ca(2+)-binding proteins). NECABs contain an N-terminal EF-hand domain that binds Ca(2+), but different from many other neuronal EF-hand Ca(2+)-binding proteins, only a single EF-hand domain is present. At the C-terminus, NECABs include a DUF176 motif, a bacterial domain of unknown function that was previously not observed in eukaryotes. In rat at least three closely related NECAB genes are expressed either primarily in brain (NECABs 1 and 2) or in brain and muscle (NECAB 3). Immunocytochemistry revealed that NECAB 1 is restricted to subsets of neurons. In cerebral cortex, NECAB 1 is highly and uniformly expressed only in layer 4 pyramidal neurons, whereas in hippocampus only inhibitory interneurons and CA2 pyramidal cells contain NECAB 1. In these neurons, NECAB 1 fills the entire cytoplasm similar to other EF-hand Ca(2+)-binding proteins, and is not concentrated in any particular subcellular compartment. We suggest that NECABs represent a novel family of regulatory Ca(2+)-binding proteins with an unusual domain structure and a limited expression in a subclass of neurons.

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