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Curr Biol. 2000 Jan 27;10(2):86-94.

Differential codes for free Ca(2+)-calmodulin signals in nucleus and cytosol.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Box 3709, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.



Many targets of calcium signaling pathways are activated or inhibited by binding the Ca(2+)-liganded form of calmodulin (Ca(2+)-CaM). Here, we test the hypothesis that local Ca(2+)-CaM-regulated signaling processes can be selectively activated by local intracellular differences in free Ca(2+)-CaM concentration.


Energy-transfer confocal microscopy of a fluorescent biosensor was used to measure the difference in the concentration of free Ca(2+)-CaM between nucleus and cytoplasm. Strikingly, short receptor-induced calcium spikes produced transient increases in free Ca(2+)-CaM concentration that were of markedly higher amplitude in the cytosol than in the nucleus. In contrast, prolonged increases in calcium led to equalization of the nuclear and cytosolic free Ca(2+)-CaM concentrations over a period of minutes. Photobleaching recovery and translocation measurements with fluorescently labeled CaM showed that equalization is likely to be the result of a diffusion-mediated net translocation of CaM into the nucleus. The driving force for equalization is a higher Ca(2+)-CaM-buffering capacity in the nucleus compared with the cytosol, as the direction of the free Ca(2+)-CaM concentration gradient and of CaM translocation could be reversed by expressing a Ca(2+)-CaM-binding protein at high concentration in the cytosol.


Subcellular differences in the distribution of Ca(2+)-CaM-binding proteins can produce gradients of free Ca(2+)-CaM concentration that result in a net translocation of CaM. This provides a mechanism for dynamically regulating local free Ca(2+)-CaM concentrations, and thus the local activity of Ca(2+)-CaM targets. Free Ca(2+)-CaM signals in the nucleus remain low during brief or low-frequency calcium spikes, whereas high-frequency spikes or persistent increases in calcium cause translocation of CaM from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, resulting in similar concentrations of nuclear and cytosolic free Ca(2+)-CaM.

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