Cdk5 is a member of the cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) family. In contrast to other Cdks that promote cell proliferation, Cdk5 plays a role in regulating various neuronal functions, including neuronal migration, synaptic activity, and neuron death. Cdks responsible for cell proliferation need phosphorylation in the activation loop for activation in addition to binding a regulatory subunit cyclin. Cdk5, however, is activated only by binding to its activator, p35 or p39. Furthermore, in contrast to Cdk1 and Cdk2, which are inhibited by phosphorylation at Tyr-15, the kinase activity of Cdk5 is reported to be stimulated when phosphorylated at Tyr-15 by Src family kinases or receptor-type tyrosine kinases. We investigated the activation mechanism of Cdk5 by phosphorylation at Tyr-15. Unexpectedly, however, it was found that Tyr-15 phosphorylation occurred only on monomeric Cdk5, and the coexpression of activators, p35/p25, p39, or Cyclin I, inhibited the phosphorylation. In neuron cultures, too, the activation of Fyn tyrosine kinase did not increase Tyr-15 phosphorylation of Cdk5. Further, phospho-Cdk5 at Tyr-15 was not detected in the p35-bound Cdk5. In contrast, expression of active Fyn increased p35 in neurons. These results indicate that phosphorylation at Tyr-15 is not an activation mechanism of Cdk5 but, rather, indicate that tyrosine kinases could activate Cdk5 by increasing the protein amount of p35. These results call for reinvestigation of how Cdk5 is regulated downstream of Src family kinases or receptor tyrosine kinases in neurons, which is an important signaling cascade in a variety of neuronal activities.
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