Native rat adipocytes and the mouse adipocyte cell line, 3T3-L1, possess transport vesicles of apparently uniform composition and size which translocate the tissue-specific glucose transporter isoform, GLUT4, from an intracellular pool to the cell surface in an insulin-sensitive fashion. Caveolin, the presumed structural protein of caveolae, has also been proposed to function in vesicular transport. Thus, we studied the expression and subcellular distribution of caveolin in adipocytes. We found that rat fat cells express the highest level of caveolin protein of any tissue studied, and caveolin is also expressed at high levels in cardiac muscle, another tissue possessing insulin responsive GLUT4 translocation. Both proteins are absent from 3T3-L1 fibroblasts and undergo a dramatic coordinate increase in expression upon differentiation of these cells into adipocytes. However, unlike GLUT4 in rat adipocytes not exposed to insulin, the majority of caveolin is present in the plasma membrane. In native rat adipocytes, intracellular GLUT4 and caveolin reside in vesicles practically indistinguishable by their size and buoyant density in sucrose gradients, and both proteins show insulin-dependent translocation to the cell surface. However, by immunoadsorption of GLUT4-containing vesicles with anti-GLUT4 antibody, we show that these vesicles have no detectable caveolin, and therefore, this protein is present in a distinct vesicle population. Thus, caveolin has no direct structural relation to the organization of the intracellular glucose transporting machinery in fat cells.

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