A soluble lactose-binding lectin with subunit Mr of 14,500 is believed to function by interacting with extracellular glycoconjugates, because it has been detected extracellularly by immunohistochemistry. This localization has been questioned, however, since the lectin lacks a secretion signal sequence, which challenges the contention that it is secreted. We have demonstrated externalization of this lectin from C2 mouse muscle cells by both immunoprecipitation of metabolically labeled protein and immunohistochemical localization. We further show that externalization of the lectin is a developmentally regulated process that accompanies myoblast differentiation and that the lectin codistributes with laminin in myotube extracellular matrix. Immunohistochemical localization during intermediate stages of externalization suggests that the lectin becomes concentrated in evaginations of plasma membrane, which pinch off to form labile lectin-rich extracellular vesicles. This suggests a possible mechanism for lectin export from the cytosol to the extracellular matrix.

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