Interest in members of the protein 4.1 super-family, which includes the ezrin-radixin-moesin (ERM) group, has been stimulated recently by the discovery that the human neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2) tumor suppressor gene encodes an ERM-like protein, merlin. Although many proteins in this family are thought to act by linking the actin-based cytoskeleton to transmembrane proteins, the cellular functions of merlin have not been defined. To investigate the cellular and developmental functions of these proteins, we have identified and characterized Drosophila homologues of moesin (Dmoesin) and of the NF2 tumor suppressor merlin (Dmerlin). Using specific antibodies, we show that although these proteins are frequently coexpressed in developing tissues, they display distinct subcellular localizations. While Dmoesin is observed in continuous association with the plasma membrane, as is typical for an ERM family protein, Dmerlin is found in punctuate structures at the membrane and in the cytoplasm. Investigation of Dmerlin cultured cells demonstrates that it is associated with endocytic compartments. As a result of these studies, we propose that the merlin protein has unique functions in the cell which differ from those of other ERM family members.

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