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CaMKII plays a critical role in long-term potentiation (LTP). The kinase is a major component of the postsynaptic density (PSD); however, it is also contained in the spine cytoplasm. CaMKII can now be monitored optically in living neurons, and it is therefore important to understand the contribution of the PSD and cytoplasmic pools to optical signals. Here, we estimate the size of these pools under basal conditions. From EM immunolabeling data, we calculate that the PSD/cytoplasmic ratio is ~5%. A second independent estimate is derived from measurements indicating that the average mushroom spine PSD contains 90 to 240 holoenzymes. A cytoplasmic concentration of 16 μM (~2590 holoenzymes) in the spine can be estimated from the total measured CaMKII content of hippocampal tissue, the relative volume of different compartments, and the spine-dendrite ratio of CaMKII (2:1). These numbers yield a second estimate (6%) of the PSD/spine ratio in good agreement with the first. The CaMKII bound to the NMDAR is important because preventing the formation of this complex blocks LTP induction. We estimate that the percentage of spine CaMKII held active by binding to the NMDAR is ~0.2%. Implications of the high spine concentration of CaMKII (> 100 μM alpha subunits) and the small fraction within the PSD are discussed. Of particular note, the finding that the CaMKII signal in spines shows only transient activation (open state) after LTP induction is subject to the qualification that it does not reflect the small but important pool bound to the NMDAR. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Bihua Feng, Sridhar Raghavachari, John Lisman. Quantitative estimates of the cytoplasmic, PSD, and NMDAR-bound pools of CaMKII in dendritic spines. Brain research. 2011 Oct 24;1419:46-52

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PMID: 21925648

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