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Int Rev Cytol. 1997;176:1-85.

Role of Rab GTPases in membrane traffic.

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  • 1National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland.


Small GTPases of the Rab subfamily have been known to be key regulators of intracellular membrane traffic since the late 1980s. Today this protein group amounts to more than 40 members in mammalian cells which localize to distinct membrane compartments and exert functions in different trafficking steps on the biosynthetic and endocytic pathways. Recent studies indicate that cycles of GTP binding and hydrolysis by the Rab proteins are linked to the recruitment of specific effector molecules on cellular membranes, which in turn impact on membrane docking/fusion processes. Different Rabs may, nevertheless, have slightly different principles of action. Studies performed in yeast suggest that connections between the Rabs and the SNARE machinery play a central role in membrane docking/fusion. Further elucidation of this linkage is required in order to fully understand the functional mechanisms of Rab GTPases in membrane traffic.

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