Transcellular transport of a variety of ligands may be an important mechanism by which regulatory substances reach their site of action. We have studied the transcellular transport of two 6,000-mol-wt proteins, epidermal growth factor (EGF) and insulin, across polarized Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells grown on dual-sided chambers on a nitrocellulose filter substrate. When grown on these chambers, MDCK cells are polarized and express distinct basal and apical surfaces. MDCK cells are capable of unidirectional transport of EGF from the basal-to-apical direction, 50% of bound EGF transported in 2 h. Transport was inhibited by the addition of unlabeled EGF in a dose-dependent manner. Anti-EGF receptor Ab, which inhibited binding, also inhibited transport. No transport in the apical-to-basal direction is noted. Insulin transport is not observed in either direction. Transport correlates with the presence of ligand-specific receptors on the cell surface. Hence, EGF receptors (Ro = 48,000, Kd = 3.5 X 10(-10) M) are found only on the basal surface of the MDCK cells and neither surface expresses insulin receptors. Characterization of the EGF receptors on MDCK cells, as assessed by affinity, molecular mass, and anti-receptor antibody binding reveals that this receptor has similar characteristics to EGF receptors previously described on a variety of cells. Hence, the EGF receptor can function as a transporter of EGF across an epithelial cell barrier.

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