Defects in mitochondrial fission and cyclin dependent kinase 5 (CDK5) activation are early events that precede neuronal loss following NMDA-induced neuronal death. Here, we report that the cytoplasmic CDK5 tightly regulates mitochondrial morphology defects associated with NMDA-induced neuronal injury via regulation of the mitochondrial fission protein, dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1). We show that DRP1 is a direct target of CDK5. CDK5-mediated phosphorylation of DRP1 at a conserved Serine residue, S585, is elevated at the mitochondria and is associated with increased mitochondrial fission. Ectopic expression of a cytoplasmic CDK5 or mutant DRP1-S585D results in increased mitochondrial fragmentation in primary neurons. Conversely, expression of a dominant negative form of cytoplasmic CDK5 or mutant DRP1-S585A results in elongated mitochondria. In addition, pharmacological inhibition of CDK5 by Roscovitine inhibits DRP1 phosphorylation and mitochondrial fission associated with NMDA-induced neuronal loss. Importantly, conditional deletion of CDK5 significantly attenuates DRP1 phosphorylation at S585 and rescues mitochondrial fission defects in neurons exposed to NMDA. Our studies delineate an important mechanism by which CDK5 regulates mitochondrial morphology defects associated with neuronal injury.
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