The luminal surface of mammalian urothelium is covered with numerous plaques (also known as the asymmetric unit membrane or AUM) composed of semi-crystalline, hexagonal arrays of 12-nm protein particles. Despite the presumed importance of these plaques in stabilizing the urothelial surface during bladder distention, relatively little is known about their protein composition. Using a mouse mAb, AE31, we have identified a 27-kD protein that is urothelium-specific and is differentially expressed in superficial umbrella cells. This protein (pI approximately 5.8) partitions into the detergent phase during Triton X-114 phase separation. Pulse-chase experiments using cultured bovine urothelial cells showed that this protein is synthesized as a 32-kD precursor that is processed through a 30-kD intermediate, to the mature 27-kD form. In cytoplasmic vesicles containing immature AUM, the AE31 epitope is detected in patches on the cytoplasmic side, but in mature, apical AUM it is detected exclusively on the luminal side. This suggests an unusual translocation of the AE31 epitope during AUM maturation; more data are required, however, to substantiate this interpretation. Immunoaffinity purification of the 27-kD protein results in the copurification in approximately molar ratio of a 15-kD protein, as well as a small and variable amount of a 47-kD protein. Immunoblotting data indicate that these three proteins are immunologically distinguishable. This copurified 15-kD protein is relative basic (pI approximately 8.0). Like the 27-kD protein, it is urothelium-specific and is present mainly in the umbrella cells. Together, our data indicate that a 27-kD protein is urothelial plaque-associated (uroplakin I). Based on complex formation data, we provisionally name the 15-kD protein uroplakin II; additional data will be required to determine whether this and the 47-kD protein are integral parts of AUM. The identification of these AUM-associated and -related proteins, plus the availability of a culture system capable of synthesizing and processing some of these molecules, offer new opportunities for studying the detailed structure, assembly, and function of asymmetrical unit membrane.

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