Fluorescence microphotolysis (recovery after photobleaching) was used to determine the lateral mobility of the (Na+,K+)ATPase and a fluorescent lipid analogue in the plasma membrane of Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells at different stages of development. Fluorescein-conjugated Fab' fragments prepared from rabbit anti-dog (Na+,K+)ATPase antibodies (IgG) and 5-(N-hexadecanoyl)aminofluorescein (HEDAF) were used to label the plasma membrane of confluent and subconfluent cultures of MDCK cells. Fractional fluorescence recovery was 50% and 80-90% for the protein and lipid probes, respectively, and was independent of developmental stage. The estimated diffusion constants of the mobile fraction were approximately 5 X 10(-10) cm2/s for the (Na+,K+)ATPase and approximately 2 X 10(-9) cm2/s for HEDAF. Only HEDAF diffusion showed dependency on developmental stage in that D for confluent cells was approximately twice that for subconfluent cells. These results indicate that (Na+,K+)ATPase is 50% immobilized in all developmental stages, whereas lipids in confluent MDCK cells are more mobile than in subconfluent cells. They suggest, furthermore, that the degree of immobilization of the (Na+,K+)ATPase is insufficient to explain its polar distribution, and they support restricted mobility of the ATPase through the tight junctions as the likely mechanism for preventing the diffusion of this protein into the apical domain of the plasma membrane in confluent cell cultures.

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