The effects of viral Kirsten ras oncogene expression on the polarized phenotype of MDCK cells were investigated. Stable transformed MDCK cell lines expressing the v-K-ras oncogene were generated via infection with a helper-independent retroviral vector construct. When grown on plastic substrata, transformed cells formed continuous monolayers with epithelial-like morphology. However, on permeable filter supports where normal cells form highly polarized monolayers, transformed MDCK cells detached from the substratum and developed multilayers. Morphological analysis of the multilayers revealed that oncogene expression perturbed the polarized organization of MDCK cells such that the transformed cells lacked an apical--basal axis around which the cytoplasm is normally organized. Evidence for selective disruption of apical membrane polarity was provided by immunolocalization of membrane proteins; a normally apical 114-kD protein was randomly distributed on the cell surface in the transformed cell line, whereas normally basolateral proteins remained exclusively localized to areas of cell contact and did not appear on the free cell surface. The discrete distribution of the tight junction-associated ZO-1 protein as well as transepithelial resistance and flux measurements suggested that tight junctions were also assembled. These findings indicate that v-K-ras transformation alters cell-substratum and cell-cell interactions in MDCK cells. Furthermore, v-K-ras expression perturbs apical polarization but does not interfere with the development of a basolateral domain, suggesting that apical and basolateral polarity in epithelial cells may be regulated independently.

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