We have used pulse-chase metabolic radiolabeling with L-[35S]methionine in conjunction with subcellular fractionation and specific protein immunoprecipitation techniques to compare the posttranslational transport pathways taken by endogenous domain-specific integral proteins of the rat hepatocyte plasma membrane in vivo. Our results suggest that both apical (HA 4, dipeptidylpeptidase IV, and aminopeptidase N) and basolateral (CE 9 and the asialoglycoprotein receptor [ASGP-R]) proteins reach the hepatocyte plasma membrane with similar kinetics. The mature molecular mass form of each of these proteins reaches its maximum specific radioactivity in a purified hepatocyte plasma membrane fraction after only 45 min of chase. However, at this time, the mature radiolabeled apical proteins are not associated with vesicles derived from the apical domain of the hepatocyte plasma membrane, but instead are associated with vesicles which, by several criteria, appear to be basolateral plasma membrane. These vesicles: (a) fractionate like basolateral plasma membrane in sucrose density gradients and in free-flow electrophoresis; (b) can be separated from the bulk of the likely organellar contaminants, including membranes derived from the late Golgi cisternae, transtubular network, and endosomes; (c) contain the proven basolateral constituents CE 9 and the ASGP-R, as judged by vesicle immunoadsorption using fixed Staphylococcus aureus cells and anti-ASGP-R antibodies; and (d) are oriented with their ectoplasmic surfaces facing outward, based on the results of vesicle immunoadsorption experiments using antibodies specific for the ectoplasmic domain of the ASGP-R. Only at times of chase greater than 45 min do significant amounts of the mature radiolabeled apical proteins arrive at the apical domain, and they do so at different rates. Approximate half-times for arrival are in the range of 90-120 min for aminopeptidase N and dipeptidylpeptidase IV whereas only 15-20% of the mature radiolabeled HA 4 associated with the hepatocyte plasma membrane fraction has become apical even after 150 min of chase. Our results suggest a mechanism for hepatocyte plasma membrane biogenesis in vivo in which all integral plasma membrane proteins are shipped first to the basolateral domain, followed by the specific retrieval and transport of apical proteins to the apical domain at distinct rates.

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