Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 in neurofilament function and regulation. Academic Article uri icon


  • Neurofilaments are neuron-specific intermediate filaments. They are classed into three groups according to their molecular masses: neurofilament heavy, middle and light chains (NF-H, NF-M and NF-L). Neurofilaments assemble and form through the association of their central alpha-helical coiled-coil rod domains. NF-H and NF-M are distinct from NF-L as they contain a carboxyl-terminal tail domain, which appears to form connections with adjacent structures and other neurofilaments. Together with other axonal components such as microtubules, they form the dynamic axonal cytoskeleton. They maintain and regulate neuronal cytoskeletal plasticity through the regulation of neurite outgrowth, axonal caliber and axonal transport. Neurofilaments contain KSP repeats that are consensus motifs for the proline-directed kinases and are extensively phosphorylated in vivo, and their functions are thought to be regulated through their phosphorylation. Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) is a proline-directed kinase, whose activity is restricted to the neuron through the neuronal-specific distribution of its activators p35 and p39. Cdk5 is the only kinase that affects the electrophoretic mobility of human NF-H and is thought to be the major neurofilament kinase. Cdk5 is involved in crosstalk with other signal transduction pathways such as the mitogen-activated protein kinase and myelin-associated glycoprotein pathways to influence the phosphorylation of neurofilaments and other cytoskeletal proteins. Both the hyperactivation of Cdk5 activity and subsequent hyperphosphorylation of neurofilaments and the microtubule-associated protein tau have been implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Here we review the functions of neurofilaments and the significance of Cdk5 phosphorylation of neurofilaments.

publication date

  • September 2003