Cdk5 Regulates Activity-Dependent Gene Expression and Dendrite Development

J Neurosci. 2015 Nov 11;35(45):15127-34. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1443-15.2015.


The proper growth and arborization of dendrites in response to sensory experience are essential for neural connectivity and information processing in the brain. Although neuronal activity is important for sculpting dendrite morphology, the underlying molecular mechanisms are not well understood. Here, we report that cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5)-mediated transcriptional regulation is a key mechanism that controls activity-dependent dendrite development in cultured rat neurons. During membrane depolarization, Cdk5 accumulates in the nucleus to regulate the expression of a subset of genes, including that of the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor, for subsequent dendritic growth. Furthermore, Cdk5 function is mediated through the phosphorylation of methyl-CpG-binding protein 2, a key transcriptional repressor that is mutated in the mental disorder Rett syndrome. These findings collectively suggest that the nuclear import of Cdk5 is crucial for activity-dependent dendrite development by regulating neuronal gene transcription during neural development.

Significance statement: Neural activity directs dendrite development through the regulation of gene transcription. However, how molecular signals link extracellular stimuli to the transcriptional program in the nucleus remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that neuronal activity stimulates the translocation of the kinase Cdk5 from the cytoplasmic compartment into the nucleus; furthermore, the nuclear localization of Cdk5 is required for dendrite development in cultured neurons. Genome-wide transcriptome analysis shows that Cdk5 deficiency specifically disrupts activity-dependent gene transcription of bdnf. The action of Cdk5 is mediated through the modulation of the transcriptional repressor methyl-CpG-binding protein 2. Therefore, this study elucidates the role of nuclear Cdk5 in the regulation of activity-dependent gene transcription and dendritic growth.

Keywords: BDNF; MeCP2; dendrite; neurotrophin; nuclear translocation; transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5 / physiology*
  • Dendrites / genetics
  • Dendrites / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Rats
  • Visual Cortex / growth & development*
  • Visual Cortex / metabolism*


  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5
  • Cdk5 protein, mouse