Zebrafish Rohon-Beard Neuron Development: Cdk5 in the Midst

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Abstract

Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (cdk5) is a proline-directed serine/threonine kinase that is activated mostly by association with its activators, p35 and p39. Initially projected as a neuron-specific kinase, cdk5 is expressed ubiquitously and its kinase activity solely depends on the presence of its activators, which are also found in some non-neuronal tissues. As a multifunctional protein, cdk5 has been linked to axonogenesis, cell migration, exocytosis, neuronal differentiation and apoptosis. Cdk5 plays a critical role in functions other than normal physiology, especially in neurodegeneration. Its contribution to both normal physiological as well as pathological processes is mediated by its specific substrates. Cdk5-null mice are embryonically lethal, therefore making it difficult to study precisely what cdk5 does to the nervous system at early stages of development, be it neuron development or programmed cell death. Zebrafish model system bypasses the impediment, as it is amenable to reverse genetics studies. One of the functions that we have followed for the cdk5 ortholog in zebrafish in vivo is its effect on the Rohon-Beard (RB) neurons. RB neurons are the primary sensory spinal neurons that die during the first two days of zebrafish development eventually to be replaced by the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). Based on ours studies and others', here we discuss possible mechanisms that may be involved in cdk5's role in RB neuron development and survival.

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