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Nuclear Ca2+: physiological regulation and role in apoptosis


The last decade has seen the rapid development of research investigating the molecular mechanisms whereby hormones, peptide growth factors and cytokines regulate cell metabolism, differentiation and proliferation. One general signalling mechanism used to transfer the information delivered by agonists into appropriate intracellular compartments involves the rapid Ca2+ redistribution throughout the cell, which results in transient elevations of the cytosolic free Ca2+ concentration. Ca2+ signals are required for a number of cellular processes including the activation of nuclear processes such as gene transcription and cell cycle events. The latter require that appropriate Ca2+ signals elicited in response to agonists be transduced across the nuclear envelope. It has generally been assumed that small molecules, metabolites and ions could freely diffuse across the nuclear envelope. Nevertheless several findings during the past few years have suggested that nuclear pore permeability can be regulated and that ion transport systems and ion-selective channels may exist on the nuclear membranes and regulate intranuclear processes.

Intranuclear Ca2+ fluctuations can affect chromatin organization, induce gene expression and also activate cleavage of nuclear DNA by nucleases during programmed cell death or apoptosis. The possible mechanisms involved in nuclear Ca2+ transport and the control of nuclear Ca2+-dependent enzymes in apoptosis is discussed below.

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Correspondence to Pierluigi Nicotera.

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Nicotera, P., Rossi, A.D. Nuclear Ca2+: physiological regulation and role in apoptosis. Mol Cell Biochem 135, 89–98 (1994).

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Key words

  • calcium
  • cell death
  • nuclei
  • apoptosis
  • gene expression