Protein kinases mediate the intracellular signal transduction pathways controlling synaptic plasticity in the central nervous system. While the majority of protein kinases achieve this function via the phosphorylation of synaptic substrates, some kinases may contribute through alternative mechanisms in addition to enzymatic activity. There is growing evidence that protein kinases may often play structural roles in plasticity as well. Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) has been implicated in learning and synaptic plasticity. Initial scrutiny focused on its enzymatic activity using pharmacological inhibitors and genetic modifications of Cdk5 cofactors. Quite recently Cdk5 has been shown to govern learning and plasticity via regulation of glutamate receptor degradation, a function that may not dependent on phosphorylation of downstream effectors. From these new studies, two roles emerge for Cdk5 in plasticity: one in which it controls structural plasticity via phosphorylation of synaptic substrates, and a second where it regulates functional plasticity via protein-protein interactions.
- Cyclin-dependent kinase 5