The polymeric immunoglobulin receptor (pIg-R) is responsible for the receptor-mediated transcytosis of polymeric immunoglobulins (IgA and IgM) across various epithelia. We have expressed the cDNA for the pIg-R in Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells and found that this system mimics that found in vivo (Mostov, K. E., and D. L. Deitcher. 1986. Cell. 46:613-621). We have now investigated the postendocytotic pathway of the ligand for the pIg-R. After a 5-min internalization at the basolateral surface, approximately 45% of internalized ligand recycles to the basolateral medium and 30% is transcytosed to the apical medium. We have also examined why transcytosis of ligand is unidirectional, going only from basolateral to apical, but not from apical to basolateral. Several factors could explain this, such as proteolytic cleavage of the pIg-R at the apical surface, decreased apical endocytosis of ligand, or an intracellular sorting event. In this report, we show that the protease inhibitor, leupeptin, inhibits the cleavage of the pIg-R but does not alter the unidirectionality of transcytosis. In addition, we demonstrate that there is a significant amount of apical endocytosis of ligand (70% of that observed basolaterally). Finally, we demonstrate that apically endocytosed ligand can return only to the apical surface. Thus, once ligand reaches the apical surface, it is "trapped" and cannot return to the basolateral surface. We propose that the unidirectionality of transcytosis is the result of intracellular sorting, and that this results from a signal(s) present on the pIg-R.

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