The activation of neuronal plasma membrane Ca channels stimulates many intracellular responses. Scaffolding proteins can preferentially couple specific Ca channels to distinct downstream outputs, such as increased gene expression, but the molecular mechanisms that underlie the exquisite specificity of these signaling pathways are incompletely understood. Here, we show that complexes containing CaMKII and Shank3, a postsynaptic scaffolding protein known to interact with L-type calcium channels (LTCCs), can be specifically coimmunoprecipitated from mouse forebrain extracts. Activated purified CaMKIIα also directly binds Shank3 between residues 829 and 1130. Mutation of Shank3 residues Arg-Arg-Lys to three alanines disrupts CaMKII binding and CaMKII association with Shank3 in heterologous cells. Our shRNA/rescue studies revealed that Shank3 binding to both CaMKII and LTCCs is important for increased phosphorylation of the nuclear CREB transcription factor and expression of c-Fos induced by depolarization of cultured hippocampal neurons. Thus, this novel CaMKII-Shank3 interaction is essential for the initiation of a specific long-range signal from LTCCs in the plasma membrane to the nucleus that is required for activity-dependent changes in neuronal gene expression during learning and memory. Precise neuronal expression of genes is essential for normal brain function. Proteins involved in signaling pathways that underlie activity-dependent gene expression, such as CaMKII, Shank3, and L-type calcium channels, are often mutated in multiple neuropsychiatric disorders. Shank3 and CaMKII were previously shown to bind L-type calcium channels, and we show here that Shank3 also binds to CaMKII. Our data show that each of these interactions is required for depolarization-induced phosphorylation of the CREB nuclear transcription factor, which stimulates the expression of c-Fos, a neuronal immediate early gene with key roles in synaptic plasticity, brain development, and behavior.
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