The Ran/TC4 GTPase is required for the nuclear accumulation of artificial karyophiles in permeabilized cell assays. To investigate Ran function in a physiologically intact setting using mammalian cells, we examined the effects of several Ran mutants on cell growth and on the nuclear translocation of a glucocorticoid receptor-green fluorescent protein fusion (GR-GFP). Glucocorticoid receptor is cytosolic in the absence of ligand, but translocates to the nucleus on binding the agonist dexamethasone. After transfection into baby hamster kidney cells (BHK21), GR-GFP was detectable in living cells by direct fluorescence microscopy. Addition of dexamethasone caused a rapid translocation of the chimeric protein from the cytosol into the nucleus (t1/2 approximately 5 min). Cotransfection with epitope-tagged, wild-type Ran led to expression of HA1-Ran that was approximately 1.6-fold higher than the level of the endogenous protein, but it had no deleterious effect on nuclear import of the GR-GFP. However, expression of the Ran mutants G19V, T24N, or a COOH-terminal deletion (delta C) mutant dramatically reduced the accumulation of GR-GFP in the nuclei. An L43E mutant of Ran was without significant effect on nuclear GR-GFP import. Identical results were obtained following micro-injection of recombinant Ran mutants into cells expressing GR-GFP. Significantly, all of the Ran mutants, including L43E, strongly inhibited cell growth. These results demonstrate the use of GR-GFP in real-time imaging of nuclear transport. They also show that multiple types of Ran mutant exert dominant effects on this process, and that normal Ran function requires cycling between the GTP- and GDP-bound states of the protein. Most importantly, the results with the L43E Ran mutant provide strong evidence that Ran mediates a function essential to cell viability that is independent of nuclear protein import.

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