ERK regulation of phosphodiesterase 4 enhances dopamine-stimulated AMPA receptor membrane insertion

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Sep 17;110(38):15437-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311783110. Epub 2013 Aug 28.


AMPA-type glutamate receptor (AMPAR) trafficking is essential for modulating synaptic transmission strength. Prior studies that have characterized signaling pathways underlying AMPAR trafficking have identified the cAMP/PKA-mediated phosphorylation of GluA1, an AMPAR subunit, as a key step in the membrane insertion of AMPAR. Inhibition of ERK impairs AMPAR membrane insertion, but the mechanism by which ERK exerts its effect is unknown. Dopamine, an activator of both PKA and ERK, induces AMPAR insertion, but the relationship between the two protein kinases in the process is not understood. We used a combination of computational modeling and live cell imaging to determine the relationship between ERK and PKA in AMPAR insertion. We developed a dynamical model to study the effects of phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), a cAMP phosphodiesterase that is phosphorylated and inhibited by ERK, on the membrane insertion of AMPAR. The model predicted that PKA could be a downstream effector of ERK in regulating AMPAR insertion. We experimentally tested the model predictions and found that dopamine-induced ERK phosphorylates and inhibits PDE4. This regulation results in increased cAMP levels and PKA-mediated phosphorylation of DARPP-32 and GluA1, leading to increased GluA1 trafficking to the membrane. These findings provide unique insight into an unanticipated network topology in which ERK uses PDE4 to regulate PKA output during dopamine signaling. The combination of dynamical models and experiments has helped us unravel the complex interactions between two protein kinase pathways in regulating a fundamental molecular process underlying synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 4 / genetics
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 4 / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism*


  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 4
  • glutamate receptor ionotropic, AMPA 1
  • Dopamine