Structural dynamics of the cell nucleus: basis for morphology modulation of nuclear calcium signaling and gene transcription

Nucleus. Mar-Apr 2011;2(2):98-104. doi: 10.4161/nucl.2.2.15116.


Neuronal morphology plays an essential role in signal processing in the brain. Individual neurons can undergo use-dependent changes in their shape and connectivity, which affects how intracellular processes are regulated and how signals are transferred from one cell to another in a neuronal network. Calcium is one of the most important intracellular second messengers regulating cellular morphologies and functions. In neurons, intracellular calcium levels are controlled by ion channels in the plasma membrane such as NMDA receptors (NMDARs), voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) and certain α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs) as well as by calcium exchange pathways between the cytosol and internal calcium stores including the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria. Synaptic activity and the subsequent opening of ligand and/or voltage-gated calcium channels can initiate cytosolic calcium transients which propagate towards the cell soma and enter the nucleus via its nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) embedded in the nuclear envelope. We recently described the discovery that in hippocampal neurons the morphology of the nucleus affects the calcium dynamics within the nucleus. Here we propose that nuclear infoldings determine whether a nucleus functions as an integrator or detector of oscillating calcium signals. We outline possible ties between nuclear mophology and transcriptional activity and discuss the importance of extending the approach to whole cell calcium signal modeling in order to understand synapse-to-nucleus communication in healthy and dysfunctional neurons.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; aging; calcium signaling; histone H3 phosphorylation; infoldings; morphology modulation; neurodegenerative diseases; nuclear envelope.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium Signaling*
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic*