PLoS genetics

Functional EF-hands in neuronal calcium sensor GCAP2 determine its phosphorylation state and subcellular distribution in vivo, and are essential for photoreceptor cell integrity.

PMID 25058152


The neuronal calcium sensor proteins GCAPs (guanylate cyclase activating proteins) switch between Ca2+-free and Ca2+-bound conformational states and confer calcium sensitivity to guanylate cyclase at retinal photoreceptor cells. They play a fundamental role in light adaptation by coupling the rate of cGMP synthesis to the intracellular concentration of calcium. Mutations in GCAPs lead to blindness. The importance of functional EF-hands in GCAP1 for photoreceptor cell integrity has been well established. Mutations in GCAP1 that diminish its Ca2+ binding affinity lead to cell damage by causing unabated cGMP synthesis and accumulation of toxic levels of free cGMP and Ca2+. We here investigate the relevance of GCAP2 functional EF-hands for photoreceptor cell integrity. By characterizing transgenic mice expressing a mutant form of GCAP2 with all EF-hands inactivated (EF-GCAP2), we show that GCAP2 locked in its Ca2+-free conformation leads to a rapid retinal degeneration that is not due to unabated cGMP synthesis. We unveil that when locked in its Ca2+-free conformation in vivo, GCAP2 is phosphorylated at Ser201 and results in phospho-dependent binding to the chaperone 14-3-3 and retention at the inner segment and proximal cell compartments. Accumulation of phosphorylated EF-GCAP2 at the inner segment results in severe toxicity. We show that in wildtype mice under physiological conditions, 50% of GCAP2 is phosphorylated correlating with the 50% of the protein being retained at the inner segment. Raising mice under constant light exposure, however, drastically increases the retention of GCAP2 in its Ca2+-free form at the inner segment. This study identifies a new mechanism governing GCAP2 subcellular distribution in vivo, closely related to disease. It also identifies a pathway by which a sustained reduction in intracellular free Ca2+ could result in photoreceptor damage, relevant for light damage and for those genetic disorders resulting in "equivalent-light" scenarios.