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Development. 1997 May;124(10):1865-75.

Association of Engrailed homeoproteins with vesicles presenting caveolae-like properties.

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CNRS URA 1414, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France.


We report here that the homeoproteins Engrailed-1 and Engrailed-2 are present in specific non-nuclear subcellular compartments. Using electron microscopy, we observed that chick-Engrailed-2 expressed in COS-7 cells associates with membrane fractions that are characterized as caveolae. This characterization is based on morphological, biochemical and immunological criteria such as, in particular, the absence of clathrin coat and the presence of caveolin and cholera toxin-binding sites. These data are fully confirmed by subcellular fractionation experiments, which demonstrate that transfected chick-Engrailed-2 is present in low density membrane fractions that are resistant to Triton X-100, enriched in caveolin and solubilized by the addition of a cholesterol-binding detergent, a set of properties highly characteristic of caveolae. The association of Engrailed-2 with specific membrane fractions observed after transfection in COS-7 cells is also observed for endogenous Engrailed-1 and Engrailed-2 expressed at late embryonic stages in the cerebellum and posterior mesencephalon of the rodent. Indeed, the two proteins are present in membrane fractions that bear all the characteristics of microdomains or caveolae-like domains, i.e. Triton X-100 resistance, saponin solubilization, low density on sucrose gradients, enrichment in glycosphingolipid GM1, absence of transmembrane Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule, presence of the glypiated (GPI-anchored) glycoprotein F3/F11 and of the acylated growth-associated protein GAP-43. Finally we demonstrate that part of the membrane-associated Engrailed, either expressed in COS-7 cells or endogenously present in neural tissues, is not accessible to proteolytic enzymes unless the membranes have been permeabilized with detergent. This study suggests that, in addition to their well-known presence in the nucleus, Engrailed proteins are also associated with caveolae-like vesicles that are primarily transported anterogradely into the axon, and that they can get access to a compartment compatible with secretion.

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