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J Cell Sci. 1994 Dec;107 ( Pt 12):3437-48.

Cloning and subcellular localization of novel rab proteins reveals polarized and cell type-specific expression.

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  • 1European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, FRG.


Small GTPases of the rab subfamily are specific regulators of vesicular transport. The intracellular localization of these proteins has been mostly investigated in cultured cells where they have been found associated with distinct compartments of the exocytic and endocytic pathways. Using a PCR-based cloning approach we have recently identified several novel rab proteins, extending the total number of this family to more than 30 members. Here, we have investigated the mRNA expression in different tissues and the intracellular localization in organ cryosections of two rab proteins, rab18 and rab20. Both northern blot analysis and confocal immunofluorescence microscopy demonstrated that these proteins are expressed in a tissue- and cell type-dependent manner. Despite their presence in non-polarized cells and polarized cells, both proteins are highly expressed on the apical side of kidney tubule epithelial cells. Electron microscopic studies revealed that rab18 and rab20 are located in apical dense tubules, endocytic structures underlying the apical plasma membrane, suggesting that they play a role in apical endocytosis/recycling. In intestinal epithelial cells as well, both proteins were localized apically, but, in addition, rab18 was found associated with the basolateral domain, suggesting that this protein is not restricted to the apical transport machinery of polarized epithelial cells. The results demonstrate that, depending on the epithelial cell type, rab proteins that are also expressed in non-polarized cells may be enriched in one or both surface domains. Together with the observed tissue- and cell type-dependent variation in the expression of the rab proteins, this suggests that the large number of mammalian rab proteins might reflect the specific requirements in the organization of membrane traffic encountered by different cell types.

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