The lateral mobility of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor in the plane of the plasma membrane of cultured A431 cells was investigated using direct and indirect fluorescent probes to measure the generation and relaxation of electric field-induced receptor asymmetry. A steady electric field of 15 V/cm for 30 min at 23 degrees C induced a redistribution of the unoccupied EGF receptor such that there was approximately a three-fold higher concentration of receptors at the cathode-facing pole. After termination of the field, the unoccupied receptors back diffused at 37 degrees C with a rate corresponding to a diffusion coefficient of 2.6-3.5 X 10(-10) cm2/s. No diffusion was detected at 4 degrees C. Formation of the hormone-receptor complex is known to induce receptor clustering and internalization. By inhibiting internalization with metabolic poisons, we were able to study the cell surface mobility of clusters of the hormone-receptor complex. The same degree of asymmetry was induced when the occupied receptor was exposed to an electric field and the rate of back diffusion of clusters of the hormone-receptor complex corresponded to a diffusion coefficient of 0.68-0.95 X 10(-10) cm2/s. Although the unoccupied receptor is somewhat more mobile than the hormone-receptor complex, it was still far less mobile than one would predict for an unconstrained protein imbedded in a phospholipid bilayer.

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