We have shown previously that the subcellular distribution of a major calmodulin-binding protein is altered under conditions causing increased synthesis of cAMP in Aplysia neurons (Saitoh, T., and J. H. Schwartz, 1983, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 80:6708-6712). We now provide evidence that this Mr 55,000 protein is a subunit of a Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase: (a) both the Mr 55,000 calmodulin-binding protein and kinase activity are loosely attached to the membrane-cytoskeletal complex; (b) both kinase activity and the Mr 55,000 protein are translocated from the membrane-cytoskeleton complex to the cytoplasm under conditions that cause the change in the subcellular distribution of the Mr 55,000 calmodulin-binding protein; and (c) calmodulin-binding activity of the Mr 55,000 protein and the ability to carry out the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent phosphorylation of synapsin I are purified in parallel. The subcellular localization of the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase appears to be under control of two second messengers: Ca2+ and cAMP. We find that the Mr 55,000 subunit is phosphorylated when the extracted membrane-cytoskeleton complex is incubated with Ca2+, calmodulin, and ATP, with the concomitant release of this phosphorylated peptide from the complex. Previously, we had found that, when translocation occurs in extracts in the presence of cAMP and ATP (but in the absence of Ca2+), there was no detectable phosphorylation of the Mr 55,000 subunit itself. The subcellular distribution of the subunit thus appears to be influenced by (a) cAMP-dependent phosphorylation, which, we infer, modifies some as yet unidentified structural component, causing the release of the enzyme; and (b) Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent phosphorylation of the Mr 55,000 subunit. These studies also suggest that phosphorylation has an important regulatory consequence: during the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent translocation of the Mr 55,000 subunit, the kinase appears to be activated, becoming independent of added Ca2+/calmodulin.

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