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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jul 7;106(27):11342-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904244106. Epub 2009 Jun 19.

Exocyst is involved in polarized cell migration and cerebral cortical development.

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Department of Neurobiology and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, 333 Cedar Street, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Neuronal migration is essential for proper development of the cerebral cortex. As a first step, a postmitotic cell extends its leading process, presumably by adding new membrane at the growing tip, which would enable directed locomotion. The goal of the present study was to determine if biosynthetic exocytic pathway is polarized in migrating cells and whether polarized exocytosis promotes directed cell migration. A promising candidate for controlling the spatial sites of vesicle tethering and fusion at the plasma membrane is a protein complex called the exocyst. We found that cell migration in a wound assay, as well as cortical neuronal migration during embryonic development was impaired when the exocyst was disturbed. By combining TIRF microscopy and a stochastic model of exocytosis, we found that vesicle exocytosis is preferentially distributed close to the leading edge of polarized cells, that the exocytic process is organized into hotspots, and that the polarized delivery of vesicles and their clustering in hotspots depend on the intact exocyst complex. The exocyst complex seems to achieve this spatial regulation by determining the sites at the membrane where secretory vesicles tether. Thus, our study supports the notion that polarized membrane traffic regulated by the exocyst is an essential component of cell migration and that its deficit may lead to cortical abnormalities involving cortical neuronal malpositioning.

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