The polymeric immunoglobulin receptor is expressed in a variety of polarized epithelial cells. Newly made receptor travels first to the basolateral surface. The receptor is then endocytosed, transported across the cell in vesicles, and exocytosed at the apical surface. We have now deleted the membrane spanning and cytoplasmic portions of the receptor by site-directed mutagenesis, thus converting the receptor to a secretory protein. When expressed in polarized Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells the truncated protein is secreted at both surfaces, with a ratio of apical-to-basal secretion of 3.4. In contrast, when the exogenous secretory protein chicken lysozyme is expressed in these cells, it is released at both sides with a ratio of apical-to-basal secretion of 0.43. (Koder-Koch, C., R. Bravo, S. Fuller, D. Cutler, and H. Garoff, 1985, J. Cell Biol., 43:297-306). Lysozyme is thought to lack a signal that targets it to one surface or the other, and so its secretion may represent a default, bulk flow pathway to both surfaces. When compared with lysozyme, the truncated polymeric immunoglobulin receptor is preferentially secreted apically by a factor of 3.4:0.43 or 7.8. We suggest that the lumenal portion of the polymeric immunoglobulin receptor contains a signal that targets it to the apical surface.

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