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Annu Rev Physiol. 2006;68:345-74.

Signaling for contraction and relaxation in smooth muscle of the gut.

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Department of Physiology, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia 23298, USA.


Phosphorylation of Ser19 on the 20-kDa regulatory light chain of myosin II (MLC20) by Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent myosin light-chain kinase (MLCK) is essential for initiation of smooth muscle contraction. The initial [Ca2+]i transient is rapidly dissipated and MLCK inactivated, whereas MLC20 and muscle contraction are well maintained. Sustained contraction does not reflect Ca2+ sensitization because complete inhibition of MLC phosphatase activity in the absence of Ca2+ induces smooth muscle contraction. This contraction is suppressed by staurosporine, implying participation of a Ca2+-independent MLCK. Thus, sustained contraction, as with agonist-induced contraction at experimentally fixed Ca2+ concentrations, involves (a) G protein activation, (b) regulated inhibition of MLC phosphatase, and (c) MLC20 phosphorylation via a Ca2+-independent MLCK. The pathways that lead to inhibition of MLC phosphatase by G(q/13)-coupled receptors are initiated by sequential activation of Galpha(q)/alpha13, RhoGEF, and RhoA, and involve Rho kinase-mediated phosphorylation of the regulatory subunit of MLC phosphatase (MYPT1) and/or PKC-mediated phosphorylation of CPI-17, an endogenous inhibitor of MLC phosphatase. Sustained MLC20 phosphorylation is probably induced by the Ca2+-independent MLCK, ZIP kinase. The pathways initiated by G(i)-coupled receptors involve sequential activation of Gbetagamma(i), PI 3-kinase, and the Ca2+-independent MLCK, integrin-linked kinase. The last phosphorylates MLC20 directly and inhibits MLC phosphatase by phosphorylating CPI-17. PKA and PKG, which mediate relaxation, act upstream to desensitize the receptors (VPAC2 and NPR-C), inhibit adenylyl and guanylyl cyclase activities, and stimulate cAMP-specific PDE3 and PDE4 and cGMP-specific PDE5 activities. These kinases also act downstream to inhibit (a) initial contraction by inhibiting Ca2+ mobilization and (b) sustained contraction by inhibiting RhoA and targets downstream of RhoA. This increases MLC phosphatase activity and induces MLC20 dephosphorylation and muscle relaxation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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