The ability to learn and form memories depends on specific patterns of synaptic activity and is in part transcription dependent. However, the signal transduction pathways that connect signals generated at synapses with transcriptional responses in the nucleus are not well understood. In the present report, we discuss three signal transduction pathways: the Ca(2+)/calmodulin-dependent kinase (CaMK) pathway, the Ras/ERK pathway, and the SAPK pathways that might function to couple synaptic activity to long-term adaptive responses, in part through the regulation of new gene expression. Evidence suggests that these pathways become activated in response to stimuli that regulate synaptic function such as the influx of extracellular Ca(2+) and certain neurotrophin growth factors such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Once activated, the CaMK, Ras/ERK, and SAPK pathways lead to the phosphorylation and activation of transcription factors in the nucleus such as the cyclic AMP response element binding protein (CREB). Genes regulated by CREB or other transcription factor targets of the CaMK, Ras/ERK, and SAPK pathways could mediate important adaptive responses to changes in synaptic activity such as changes in synaptic strength and the regulation of neuronal survival and death.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.