In Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) fibroblast cells the protein kinase C activating phorbol ester, phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), stimulates an increase in cell surface transferrin receptor (TR) expression by increasing the exocytic rate of the recycling pathway. The human TR expressed in CHO cells is similarly affected by PMA treatment. A mutant human TR in which the major protein kinase C phosphorylation site, serine 24, has been replaced with the non-phosphorylatable amino acid glycine has been constructed to investigate the role of receptor phosphorylation in the PMA induced up-regulation. The Gly-24-substituted receptor binds, internalizes, and recycles Tf. Furthermore, the altered receptor mediates cellular Fe accumulation from diferric-Tf, thereby fulfilling the receptor's major biological role. The Gly-24 TR behaves identically to the wild-type TR when cells are treated with PMA. Therefore, Ser-24 phosphorylation is not required for the PMA-induced redistribution of the human TR expressed in CHO cells. The increased TR expression on the cell surface after PMA treatment results from an increase in the rate of exocytosis of the recycling receptors. No change in the endocytic rate or the size of the recycling receptor pool was observed. These results indicate that the PMA effect on the TR surface expression may result from a more general perturbation of membrane trafficking rather than a specific modulation of the TR.

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