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Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5), a member of the cyclin-dependent kinase family, is expressed predominately in mature neurons and is implicated in neurite extension, neuronal migration, and neuronal differentiation. Cdk5 protein expression also has been associated with apoptosis in a number of nonneuronal model systems. In normal brain, substrates for Cdk5 include neurofilament and tau proteins. Because human tumors of glial origin can express neuronal proteins, we examined whether Cdk5 and its activator protein, P35, are present in early passage human glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cells lines and primary tumor specimens. Here we report the expression of Cdk5 and an "active" proteolytic form of P35 in human GBM cells and demonstrate kinase activity of the holoenzyme. We also show that Cdk5 kinase activity and expression of its activator protein, P35, is increased in the human GBM cell line M059J after exposure to ionizing radiation and that P35 is localized within M059J cells undergoing apoptosis. These results suggest a possible role for Cdk5 in mediating apoptosis in human GBM cells.