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Annu Rev Physiol. 2014;76:275-300. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021113-170406. Epub 2013 Nov 8.

Trafficking of epidermal growth factor receptor ligands in polarized epithelial cells.

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Departments of Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee 37232; email: ,


A largely unilamellar epithelial layer lines body cavities and organ ducts such as the digestive tract and kidney tubules. This polarized epithelium is composed of biochemically and functionally separate apical and basolateral surfaces. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway is a critical regulator of epithelial homeostasis and is perturbed in a number of epithelial disorders. It is underappreciated that in vivo EGFR signaling is most often initiated by cell-surface delivery and processing of one of seven transmembrane ligands, resulting in release of the soluble form that binds EGFR. In polarized epithelial cells, EGFR is restricted largely to the basolateral surface, and apical or basolateral ligand delivery therefore has important biological consequences. In vitro approaches have been used to study the biosynthesis, cell-surface delivery, proteolytic processing, and release of soluble EGFR ligands in polarized epithelial cells. We review these results, discuss their relevance to normal physiology, and demonstrate the pathophysiological consequences of aberrant trafficking. These studies have uncovered a rich diversity of apico-basolateral trafficking mechanisms among the EGFR ligands, provided insights into the pathogenesis of an inherited magnesium-wasting disorder of the kidney (isolated renal hypomagnesemia), and identified a new mode of EGFR ligand signaling via exosomes.

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