Plasticity in gene expression is achieved by a complex array of molecular mechanisms by which intracellular signaling pathways directly govern transcriptional regulation. In addition to the remarkable variety of transcription factors and co-regulators, and their combinatorial interaction at specific promoter loci, the role of chromatin remodeling has been increasingly appreciated. The N-terminal tails of histones, the building blocks of nucleosomes, contain conserved residues that can be post-translationally modified by phosphorylation, acetylation, methylation and other modifications. Depending on their nature, these modifications have been linked to activation or silencing of gene expression. We wanted to investigate whether neuronal stimulation by various signaling pathways elicits chromatin modifications that would allow transcriptional activation of immediate early response genes. We have analysed the capacity of three drugs - SKF82958 (a dopaminergic receptor agonist), pilocarpine (a muscarinic acetylcholine receptor agonist) and kainic acid (a kainate glutamate receptor agonist) - to induce chromatin remodeling in hippocampal neurons. We show that all stimulations induce rapid, transient phosphorylation of histone H3 at serine 10. Importantly, the same agonists induce rapid activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway with similar kinetics to extracellular-regulated-kinase phosphorylation. In the same neurons where this dynamic signaling cascade is activated, there is induction of c-fos transcription. Histone H3 Ser10 phosphorylation is coupled to acetylation at the nearby Lys14 residue, an event that has been linked to local opening of chromatin structure. Our results underscore the importance of dynamic chromatin remodeling in the transcriptional response to various stimuli in neuronal cells.
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