Cdk5 mediates changes in morphology and promotes apoptosis of astrocytoma cells in response to heat shock

J Cell Sci. 2001 Mar;114(Pt 6):1145-53. doi: 10.1242/jcs.114.6.1145.


The cyclin-dependent kinase member, Cdk5, is expressed in a variety of cell types, but neuron-specific expression of its activator, p35, is thought to limit its activity to neurons. Here we demonstrate that both Cdk5 and p35 are expressed in the human astrocytoma cell line, U373. Cdk5 and p35 are present in the detergent-insoluble cytoskeletal fraction of this cell line and Cdk5 localizes to filopodia and vinculin-rich regions of cell-matrix contact in lamellopodia. When exposed to a 46(o)C heat shock, U373 cells change shape, lose cell-matrix contacts and show increased levels of apoptosis. To test whether Cdk5 activation might play a role in these events, U373 cells were stably transfected with histidine-tagged or green fluorescent protein-tagged constructs of Cdk5 or a dominant negative mutation, Cdk5T33. Under normal growth conditions, growth characteristics of the stably transfected lines were indistinguishable from untransfected U373 cells and Cdk5 localization was not changed. However, when subjected to heat shock, cells stably transfected with Cdk5-T33 remained flattened, showed little loss of cell-matrix adhesion, and exhibited significantly lower levels of apoptosis. In contrast, cells that overexpressed wild-type Cdk5 showed morphological changes similar to those seen in untransfected U373 cells in response to heat shock and had significantly higher levels of apoptosis. Heat-shocked cells showed changes in p35 mobility and stability of the Cdk5/p35 complex consistent with endogenous Cdk5 activity. Together these findings suggest that endogenous Cdk5 activity may play a key role in regulating morphology, attachment, and apoptosis in U373 cells, and raise the possibility that Cdk5 may be a general regulator of cytoskeletal organization and cell adhesion in both neuronal and non-neuronal cells.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Astrocytoma
  • Cell Fractionation
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / biosynthesis
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / metabolism*
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Heat-Shock Response / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • neuronal Cdk5 activator (p25-p35)
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5
  • CDK5 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases