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J Biol Chem. 2007 Oct 5;282(40):29621-33. Epub 2007 Aug 3.

Diffusion and not active transport underlies and limits ERK1/2 synapse-to-nucleus signaling in hippocampal neurons.

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Department of Neurobiology, Interdisciplinary Center for Neurosciences, University of Heidelberg, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


The propagation of signals from synapses and dendrites to the nucleus is crucial for long lasting adaptive changes in the nervous system. The ERK-MAPK pathway can link neuronal activity and cell surface receptor activation to the regulation of gene transcription, and it is often considered the principal mediator of synapse-to-nucleus communication in late-phase plasticity and learning. However, the mechanisms underlying ERK1/2 trafficking in dendrites and nuclear translocation in neurons remain to be determined leaving it unclear whether ERK1/2 activated at the synapse can contribute to nuclear signaling and transcriptional regulation. Using the photobleachable and photoactivable fluorescent tag Dronpa on ERK1 and ERK2, we show here that ERK1/2 translocation to the nucleus of hippocampal neurons is induced by the stimulation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors or TrkB stimulation and is apparently mediated by facilitated diffusion. In contrast, ERK1/2 trafficking within dendrites is not signal-regulated and is mediated by passive diffusion. Within dendrites, the reach of a locally activated pool of ERK1/2 is very limited and follows an exponential decay with distance. These results indicate that successful signal propagation to the nucleus by the ERK-MAPK pathway depends on the distance of the nucleus from the site of ERK1/2 activation. ERK1/2 activated within or near the soma may rapidly reach the nucleus to induce gene expression, whereas ERK1/2 activated at distal synapses may only contribute to local signaling.

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