Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5), a member of the cyclin-dependent kinase family, is critical for regulating neural development and neuronal survival. Dysregulation of Cdk5 is associated with abnormal expression of cell cycle-related proteins during neuronal apoptosis. We have previously found that p35, a Cdk5 activator, interacts with mSds3, an integral component of the histone deacetylase complex in vitro, suggesting a functional role of Cdk5 in gene regulation through modulation of chromatin integrity. In this study, we further demonstrate that Cdk5-dependent phosphorylation of mSds3 at Ser228 occurs in mouse brain nuclei. The expression of mSds3 protein and its interaction with Cdk5 activators is developmentally regulated in the mouse brain. Importantly, our findings suggest that the ability of Cdk5 to regulate activity deprivation-induced apoptosis of cerebellar granule neurons is likely mediated by the regulation of histone acetylation. Suppression of Cdk5 not only attenuates the induction of histone H3 acetylation and the aberrant upregulation of cyclin proteins in neurons after activity deprivation, but also results in protection of neurons against apoptotic cell death. Taken together, our findings suggest that Cdk5 regulates neuronal survival by precise epigenetic control through modulation of histone acetylation.

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