In T lymphocytes, triggering of the T cell receptor (TCR) induces several signaling cascades which ultimately synergize to induce the activity of the nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT), a DNA binding complex critical to the inducibility and T cell specificity of the T cell growth factor interleukin 2. One immediate consequence of T cell activation via the TCR is an increase in cytosolic calcium. Calcium signals are important for NFAT induction, and recent studies have identified calcineurin, a calcium-calmodulin dependent serine-threonine phosphatase, as a prominent component of the calcium signaling pathway in T cells. A second important molecule in TCR signal transduction is the guanine nucleotide binding protein, p21ras, which is coupled to the TCR by a protein tyrosine kinase dependent mechanism. The experiments presented here show that expression by transfection of mutationally activated calcineurin or activated p21ras alone is insufficient for NFAT transactivation. However, coexpression of the activated calcineurin with activated p21ras could mimic TCR signals in NFAT induction. These data identify calcineurin and p21ras as cooperative partners in T cell activation.

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