The time course of development of polarity of an apical (184-kD) and a basolateral (63-kD) plasma membrane protein of Madin-Darby canine kidney cells was followed using semiquantitative immunofluorescence on semithin (approximately 0.5-micron) frozen sections and monoclonal antibody probes. The 184-kD protein became highly polarized to the apical pole within the initial 24 h both in normal medium and in 1-5 microM Ca2+, which results in well-spread, dome-shaped cells, lacking tight junctions and other lateral membrane interactions. In contrast, the basolateral 63-kD membrane protein developed full polarity only after incubation in normal Ca2+ concentrations for greater than 72 h, a time much longer than that required for the formation of tight junctions (approximately 18 h) and failed to polarize in 1-5 microM Ca2+. These results demonstrate that intradomain restriction mechanisms independent of tight junctions, such as self-aggregation or specific interactions with the submembrane cytoskeleton, participate in the regionalization of at least some epithelial plasma membrane proteins. The full operation of these mechanisms depends on the presence of normal cell-cell interactions in the case of the basolateral 63-kD antigen but not in the case of the apical 184-kD protein.

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