ION CHANNELS: Sequential ionic and conformational signaling by calcium channels drives neuronal gene expression

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Voltage-gated Cav1.2 channels (L-type calcium channel α1C subunits) are critical mediators of transcription-dependent neural plasticity. Whether these channels signal via the influx of calcium ion (Ca2+), voltage-dependent conformational change (VΔC), or a combination of the two has thus far been equivocal. We fused Cav1.2 to a ligand-gated Ca2+-permeable channel, enabling independent control of localized Ca2+ and VAC signals. This revealed an unexpected dual requirement: Ca2+ must first mobilize actin-bound Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, freeing it for subsequent VΔC-mediated accumulation. Neither signal alone sufficed to activate transcription. Signal order was crucial: Efficiency peaked when Ca2+ preceded VΔC by 10 to 20 seconds. Cav1.2 VΔC synergistically augmented signaling by N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors. Furthermore, VΔC mistuning correlated with autistic symptoms in Timothy syndrome. Thus, nonionic VΔC signaling is vital to the function of Cav1.2 in synaptic and neuropsychiatric processes.

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