The molecular mechanism behind what causes an infection of Enterovirus 71 (EV71) in young children to result in severe neurological diseases is unclear. Herein, we show that Cdk5, a critical signalling effector of various neurotoxic insults in the brain, is activated by EV71 infection of neuronal cells. EV71-induced neuronal apoptosis could be effectively repressed by blocking either Cdk5 kinase activity or its protein expression. Moreover, EV71-induced Cdk5 activation was modulated by c-Abl. The suppression of c-Abl kinase activity by STI571 notably repressed both the Cdk5 activation and neuronal apoptosis in cells infected with EV71. Although EV71 also induces apoptosis in non-neuronal cells, it did not affect Abl and Cdk5 activities in several non-neuronal cell lines. Intriguingly, coxsackievirus A16 (CA16), a genetically closely related serotype to EV71 that usually does not induce severe neurological disorders, could only weakly stimulate Abl, but not Cdk5 kinase activity. Taken together, our data suggest a serotype- and cell type-specific mechanism, by which EV71 induces Abl kinase activity, which in turn triggers Cdk5-signalling for neuronal apoptosis.
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