Overexpression in insect cells of the full coding sequence of the human membrane cytoskeletal linker ezrin (1-586) was compared with that of a NH2-terminal domain (ezrin 1-233) and that of a COOH-terminal domain (ezrin 310-586). Ezrin (1-586), as well as ezrin (1-233) enhanced cell adhesion of infected Sf9 cells without inducing gross morphological changes in the cell structure. Ezrin (310-586) enhanced cell adhesion and elicited membrane spreading followed by microspike and lamellipodia extensions by mobilization of Sf9 cell actin. Moreover some microspikes elongated into thin processes, up to 200 microns in length, resembling neurite outgrowths by a mechanism requiring microtubule assembly. Kinetics of videomicroscopic and drug-interference studies demonstrated that mobilization of actin was required for tubulin assembly to proceed. A similar phenotype was observed in CHO cells when a comparable ezrin domain was transiently overexpressed. The shortest domain promoting cell extension was localized between residues 373-586. Removal of residues 566-586, involved in in vitro actin binding (Turunen, O., T. Wahlström, and A. Vaheri. 1994. J. Cell Biol. 126:1445-1453), suppressed the extension activity. Coexpression of ezrin (1-233) with ezrin (310-586) in the same insect cells blocked the constitutive activity of ezrin COOH-terminal domain. The inhibitory activity was mapped within ezrin 115 first NH2-terminal residues. We conclude that ezrin has properties to promote cell adhesion, and that ezrin NH2-terminal domain negatively regulates membrane spreading and elongation properties of ezrin COOH-terminal domain.

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