Activity-dependent gene expression triggered by Ca(2+) entry into neurons is critical for learning and memory, but whether specific sources of Ca(2+) act distinctly or merely supply Ca(2+) to a common pool remains uncertain. Here, we report that both signaling modes coexist and pertain to Ca(V)1 and Ca(V)2 channels, respectively, coupling membrane depolarization to CREB phosphorylation and gene expression. Ca(V)1 channels are advantaged in their voltage-dependent gating and use nanodomain Ca(2+) to drive local CaMKII aggregation and trigger communication with the nucleus. In contrast, Ca(V)2 channels must elevate [Ca(2+)](i) microns away and promote CaMKII aggregation at Ca(V)1 channels. Consequently, Ca(V)2 channels are ~10-fold less effective in signaling to the nucleus than are Ca(V)1 channels for the same bulk [Ca(2+)](i) increase. Furthermore, Ca(V)2-mediated Ca(2+) rises are preferentially curbed by uptake into the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria. This source-biased buffering limits the spatial spread of Ca(2+), further attenuating Ca(V)2-mediated gene expression.
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