The organization of the basolateral membrane domain of highly polarized intestinal absorptive cells was studied in adult rat intestinal mucosa, during development of polarity in fetal intestine, and in isolated epithelial sheets. Semi-thin frozen sections of these tissues were stained with a monoclonal antibody (mAb 4C4) directed against Na+,K+-ATPase, and with other reagents to visualize distributions of the membrane skeleton (fodrin), an epithelial cell adhesion molecule (uvomorulin), an apical membrane enzyme (aminopeptidase), and filamentous actin. In intact adult epithelium, Na+,K+-ATPase, membrane-associated fodrin, and uvomorulin were concentrated in the lateral, but not basal, subdomain. In the stratified epithelium of fetal intestine, both fodrin and uvomorulin were localized in areas of cell-cell contact at 16 and 17 d gestation, a stage when Na+,K+-ATPase was not yet expressed. These molecules were excluded from apical domains and from cell surfaces in contact with basal lamina. When Na+,K+-ATPase appeared at 18-19 d, it was codistributed with fodrin. Detachment of epithelial sheets from adult intestinal mucosa did not disrupt intercellular junctions or lateral cell contacts, but cytoplasmic blebs appeared at basal cell surfaces, and a diffuse pool of fodrin and actin accumulated in them. At the same time, Na+,K+-ATPase moved into the basal membrane subdomain, and extensive endocytosis of basolateral membrane, including Na+,K+-ATPase, occurred. Endocytosis of uvomorulin was not detected and no fodrin was associated with endocytic vesicles. Uvomorulin, along with some membrane-associated fodrin and some Na+,K+-ATPase, remained in the lateral membrane as long as intercellular contacts were maintained. Thus, in this polarized epithelium, interaction of lateral cell-cell adhesion molecules as well as basal cell-substrate interactions are required for maintaining the stability of the lateral membrane skeleton and the position of resident membrane proteins concentrated in the lateral membrane domain.

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