Cdk5 is an atypical cyclin-dependent kinase localized in the brain, and its activity is dependent upon binding to p35/p39. In addition, while cdk5 has important physiological functions related to brain development, the breakdown of cdk5/p35 into cdk5/p25 increases its kinase activity and neurotoxicity. Interestingly, in recent years increased cdk5/p25 expression has been demonstrated in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Experimental studies performed in neuronal cell cultures indicate that cdk5/p25 plays a prominent role in apoptosis. Moreover, an apoptotic pathway, via an intracellular calcium increase following calpain activation and cdk5/p25 formation, has been postulated. Cdk5/p25 subsequently phosphorylates the nuclear transcription factor myocyte enhancer factor (MEF2), thereby inhibiting its prosurvival activity. However, cdk5/p25 could phosphorylate other substrates such as tau and p53, as well as the retinoblastoma protein pRb. All these data lend credence to the hypothesis that cdk5/p25 acts as a master regulator of neuronal cell death. In addition, cdk5/p25 might also interact with other pathways such as glycogen synthetase kinase 3beta (GSK3beta) and c-JUN kinase. Drugs like roscovitine, flavopiridol, calpain inhibitors, kenpaullone and induribins, which inhibit cdk5/p25 formation, constitute potential drugs for the treatment of neurological disorders. Furthermore, the dual inhibitory effect of some of these drugs on cdk5 and GSK3beta could be beneficial.
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