We have studied the effects of brefeldin A (BFA) on endocytosis and intracellular traffic in polarized MDCK cells by using the galactose-binding protein toxin ricin as a membrane marker and HRP as a marker of fluid phase transport. We found that BFA treatment rapidly increased apical endocytosis of both ricin and HRP, whereas basolateral endocytosis was unaffected, as was endocytosis of HRP in the poorly polarized carcinoma cell lines HEp-2 and T47D. Tubular endosomes were induced by BFA both apically and basolaterally in some MDCK cells, comparable with those seen in HEp-2 and T47D cells. In addition, in MDCK cells, BFA induced formation of small (< 300 nm) vesicles, labeled both after apical and basolateral uptake of HRP, as well as some very large (> 700 nm) vacuoles, which were only labeled when HRP was present in the apical medium. In contrast, neither in MDCK nor in HEp-2 or T47D cells, did BFA have any effect on lysosomal morphology. Moreover, transcytosis in the basolateral-apical direction was stimulated both for HRP and ricin. Other vesicular transport routes were less affected or unaffected by BFA treatment. Two closely related structural analogues of BFA (B16 and B21), unable to produce the changes in Golgi and endosomal morphology seen after BFA treatment in a number of different cell lines, were also unable to mimic the effects of BFA on MDCK cells.

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