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Int Rev Cytol. 2003;226:127-64.

Membrane dynamics and the regulation of epithelial cell polarity.

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Department of Membrane Cell Biology, University of Groningen, Antonius Deusinglaan 1, 9713AV Groningen, The Netherlands.


Plasma membranes of epithelial cells consist of two domains, an apical and a basolateral domain, the surfaces of which differ in composition. The separation of these domains by a tight junction and the fact that specific transport pathways exist for intracellular communication between these domains and distinct intracellular compartments relevant to cell polarity development, have triggered extensive research on issues that focus on how the polarity is generated and maintained. Apart from proper assembly of tight junctions, their potential functioning as landmark for the transport machinery, cell-cell adhesion is obviously instrumental in barrier formation. In recent years, distinct endocytic compartments, defined as subapical compartment or common endosome, were shown to play a prominent role in regulating membrane trafficking to and from polarized membrane domains. Sorting devices remain to be determined but likely include distinct rab proteins, and evidence is accumulating to indicate that signaling events may direct intracellular membrane transport, intimately involved in the biogenesis and maintenance of polarized membrane domains and hence the development of cell polarity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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