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Cell Calcium. 2007 Aug;42(2):145-56. Epub 2007 Jun 18.

Signalling to transcription: store-operated Ca2+ entry and NFAT activation in lymphocytes.

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Department of Pathology, Harvard Medical School, The CBR Institute for Biomedical Research, 200 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


In cells of the immune system that are stimulated by antigen or antigen-antibody complexes, Ca(2+) entry from the extracellular medium is driven by depletion of endoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+) stores and occurs through specialized store-operated Ca(2+) channels known as Ca(2+)-release-activated Ca(2+) (CRAC) channels. The process of store-operated Ca(2+) influx is essential for short-term as well as long-term responses by immune-system cells. Short-term responses include mast cell degranulation and killing of target cells by effector cytolytic T cells, whereas long-term responses typically involve changes in gene transcription and include T and B cell proliferation and differentiation. Transcription downstream of Ca(2+) influx is in large part funneled through the transcription factor nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT), a heavily phosphorylated protein that is cytoplasmic in resting cells, but that enters the nucleus when dephosphorylated by the calmodulin-dependent serine/threonine phosphatase calcineurin. The importance of the Ca(2+)/calcineurin/NFAT signalling pathway for lymphocyte activation is underscored by the finding that the underlying defect in a family with a hereditary severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) syndrome is a defect in CRAC channel function, store-operated Ca(2+) entry, NFAT activation and transcription of cytokines, chemokines and many other NFAT target genes whose transcription is essential for productive immune defence. We recently used a two-pronged genetic approach to identify Orai1 as the pore subunit of the CRAC channel. On the one hand, we initiated a positional cloning approach in which we utilised genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) mapping to identify the genomic region linked to the mutant gene in the SCID family described above. In parallel, we used a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila to identify critical regulators of NFAT nuclear translocation and store-operated Ca(2+) entry. These approaches, together with subsequent mutational and electrophysiological analyses, converged to identify human Orai1 as a pore subunit of the CRAC channel and as the gene product mutated in the SCID patients.

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