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Keywords:

  • cAMP;
  • CREB;
  • nuclear calcium;
  • signal transduction;
  • synaptic activity;
  • transcription

Abstract

Nuclear calcium signals associated with electrical activation of neurons can control the activity of the transcription factor cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB). Yet, cAMP is thought to be the key messenger that links synaptic activity to the regulation of CREB-mediated transcription. It is generally assumed that synaptic activity increases the intracellular levels of cAMP; this causes activation of the cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) that regulates CREB-mediated transcription either directly or through controlling nuclear signalling of the MAP kinases/extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2) pathway. Here we show that, in hippocampal neurons, synaptic activity failed to increase global levels of cAMP that would be required for the cAMP-PKA system to induce nuclear events. Even near-continuous bursting of action potentials, giving rise to large nuclear calcium signals and robust CREB-dependent transcription, left global intracellular levels of cAMP unchanged. These results suggest that the cAMP-PKA system does not function as the transducer of synaptic signals to the nucleus. They indicate that the known inhibitory effects of blockers of PKA on gene expression and long-lasting plasticity triggered by calcium entry reflect a gating function of basal activity of PKA that renders neurons permissive for nuclear calcium-regulated, CREB/CBP-dependent gene expression.