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Neuron. 2003 Apr 10;38(1):33-46.

Cdk5-mediated inhibition of the protective effects of transcription factor MEF2 in neurotoxicity-induced apoptosis.

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The Liver Research Center, Department of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, Rhode Island 02903, USA.


Neurotoxic insults deregulate Cdk5 activity, which leads to neuronal apoptosis and may contribute to neurodegeneration. The biological activity of Cdk5 has been ascribed to its phosphorylation of cytoplasmic substrates. However, its roles in the nucleus remain unknown. Here we investigate the mechanism by which Cdk5 promotes neuronal apoptosis. We have identified the prosurvival transcription factor MEF2 as a direct nuclear target of Cdk5. Cdk5 phosphorylates MEF2 at a distinct serine in its transactivation domain to inhibit MEF2 activity. Neurotoxicity enhances nuclear Cdk5 activity, leading to Cdk5-dependent phosphorylation and inhibition of MEF2 function in neurons. MEF2 mutants resistant to Cdk5 phosphorylation restore MEF2 activity and protect primary neurons from Cdk5 and neurotoxin-induced apoptosis. Our studies reveal a nuclear pathway by which neurotoxin/Cdk5 induces neuronal apoptosis through inhibiting prosurvival nuclear machinery.

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