The GLUT4 glucose transporter appears to be targeted to a unique insulin-sensitive intracellular membrane compartment in fat and muscle cells. Insulin stimulates glucose transport in these cell types by mediating the partial redistribution of GLUT4 from this intracellular compartment to the plasma membrane. The structural basis for the unique targeting behavior of GLUT4 was investigated in the insulin-sensitive L6 myoblast cell line. Analysis of immunogold-labeled cells of independent clonal lines by electron microscopy indicated that 51-53% of GLUT1 was present in the plasma membrane in the basal state. Insulin did not significantly affect this distribution. In contrast, only 4.2-6.1% of GLUT4 was present in the plasma membrane of basal L6 cells and insulin increased this percentage by 3.7-6.1-fold. Under basal conditions and after insulin treatment, GLUT4 was detected in tubulovesicular structures, often clustered near Golgi stacks, and in endosome-like vesicles. Analysis of 25 chimeric transporters consisting of reciprocal domains of GLUT1 and GLUT4 by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy indicated that only the final 25 amino acids of the COOH-terminal cytoplasmic tail of GLUT4 were both necessary and sufficient for the targeting pattern observed for GLUT4. A dileucine motif present in the COOH-terminal tail of GLUT4 was found to be necessary, but not sufficient, for intracellular targeting. Contrary to previous studies, the NH2 terminus of GLUT4 did not affect the subcellular distribution of chimeras. Analysis of a chimera containing the COOH-terminal tail of GLUT4 by immunogold electron microscopy indicated that its subcellular distribution in basal cells was very similar to that of wild-type GLUT4 and that its content in the plasma membrane increased 6.8-10.5-fold in the presence of insulin. Furthermore, only the chimera containing the COOH terminus of GLUT4 enhanced insulin responsive 2-deoxyglucose uptake. GLUT1 and two other chimeras lacking the COOH terminus of GLUT4 were studied by immunogold electron microscopy and did not demonstrate insulin-mediated changes in subcellular distribution. The NH2-terminal cytoplasmic tail of GLUT4 did not confer intracellular sequestration and did not cause altered subcellular distribution in the presence of insulin. Intracellular targeting of one chimera to non-insulin-sensitive compartments was also observed. We conclude that the COOH terminus of GLUT4 is both necessary and sufficient to confer insulin-sensitive subcellular targeting of chimeric glucose transporters in L6 myoblasts.

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