Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) is a proline-directed serine/threonine kinase. Its dysregulation has been implicated in various neurodegenerative diseases. We previously reported that phosphorylation of the C-terminus of the Hsc70-interacting protein (CHIP) by Cdk5 promotes truncated apoptosis-inducing factor (tAIF)-mediated neuronal death induced by oxidative stress. Here, we determined whether this Cdk5-dependent cell death signaling pathway is present in experimental models of Parkinson's disease. First, we showed that rotenone activates Cdk5 in primary cultures of cortical neurons and causes tAIF-dependent neuronal cell death. This event was attenuated by negative regulation of endogenous Cdk5 activity by the pharmacological Cdk5 inhibitor, roscovitine, or by lentiviral knockdown of Cdk5. Cdk5 phosphorylates CHIP at Ser20 in rotenone-treated neurons. Consequently, overexpression of CHIPS20A, but not CHIPWT, attenuates tAIF-induced cell death in rotenone-treated cortical neurons. Taken together, these results indicate that phosphorylation of CHIP at Ser20 by Cdk5 activation inhibits CHIP-mediated tAIF degradation, thereby contributing to tAIF-induced neuronal cell death following rotenone treatment.
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