Ca2+ ions play a crucial role not only as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, but also in other aspects of brain function, such as short-term and long-term modulation of synaptic efficacy, which may underlie certain forms of learning and memory. The actions of Ca2+ are mediated by Ca2+-binding proteins, including a group of proteins known as neuronal calcium sensor (NCS) proteins. The NCS family includes NCS-1, visinin-like proteins, recoverins, guanylate cyclase-activating proteins and potassium channel-interacting proteins. Some members of this family, such as recoverin and guanylate cyclase-activating protein, are only expressed in photoreceptor cells and have been implicated in the control of visual transduction pathways, while the functional roles of the other members are largely unknown. NCS-1 was originally identified in Drosophila in a screen for neuronal hyperexcitability mutants. NCS-1 is an N-terminally myristoylated protein that contains four EF-hand motifs, three of which are able to bind Ca2+ in the submicromolar range. Overexpression of NCS-1 has been shown to enhance evoked neurotransmitter release, paired-pulse facilitation and exocytosis in several neuronal and neuroendocrine cell types. Recent experiments suggest that NCS-1 interacts directly with phosphatidylinositol 4-hydroxykinase in yeast as well as mammalian cells, suggesting that it may enhance neuronal secretion by modulating cellular trafficking steps in a phosphoinositide-dependent manner. In contrast, an involvement of NCS-1 in the expression and regulation of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels and K+ channels has also been proposed, which may be attributed, at least in part, to the effects of NCS-1 on vesicular trafficking pathways. The present review describes current knowledge about the cellular functions and molecular mechanisms by which NCS-1 may regulate neurotransmitter release.

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