The three mammalian ras proteins associated specifically with the plasma membrane and this is essential for their biological activity. Two signals encoded within the extreme COOH terminus of the proteins specify this cellular localization; a CAAX box in combination with either a polybasic domain (p21K-rasB) or a palmitoylation site (p21Ha-ras and p21N-ras). All members of the ras-like and rho-like subfamilies of the ras superfamily of small GTP-binding proteins also have CAAX boxes with potential second site sequences resembling either p21K-rasB or P21N-ras/Ha-ras. However it is not at all clear that they are each located at the plasma membrane, and in fact one of the ras-like proteins, rap1, has been localized to the Golgi (Beranger et al., 1991). None of the mammalian rho-like subfamily has yet been localized. Three forms (A, B, and C) of p21rho, the prototype of this family are known; the COOH termini of p21rhoA and p21rhoC resemble p21K-rasB with a polybasic domain, whereas p21rhoB resembles p21N-ras/Ha-ras with two cysteine residues as potential palmitoylation sites. Despite this similarity to the p21ras proteins, rho proteins have been purified from both particulate and cytosolic fractions of a variety of tissues. In order to localize definitively the three rho proteins we have used an epitope tagging approach coupled to microinjection of living cells. We show that a small fraction of all three proteins is localized to the plasma membrane but the majority of p21rhoA and p21rhoC is cytosolic whereas p21rhoB is associated with early endosomes and a pre-lysosomal compartment. Along with the results obtained with chimeric molecules using heterologous proteins attached to rho COOH termini, this suggests that the p21rho proteins cycle on and off the plasma membrane and this may have important implications for their biological function.
The rho proteins, p21rho, are ubiquitously expressed guanine nucleotide binding proteins with approximately 30% amino acid homology to p21ras, but their biochemical function is unknown. We show here that microinjection of constitutively activated recombinant rho protein (Val14rho) into subconfluent cells induces dramatic changes in cell morphology: 15-30 min after injection cells adopt a distinct and novel phenotype with a contracted cell body and finger-like processes still adherent to the substratum. Ribosylation of Val14rho with the ADP-ribosyltransferase C3 from clostridium botulinum, before microinjection, renders the protein biologically inactive, but it has no effect on either its intrinsic biochemical properties or on its interaction with the GTPase activating protein, rho GAP. Micro-injection of ribosylated normal rho, on the other hand, has a similar effect of injection of C3 transferase and induces complete rounding up of cells. We also report striking biochemical changes in actin filament organization when contact-inhibited quiescent 3T3 cells are injected with Val14rho protein. The effects induced by activation or inactivation of p21rho described here, suggest that the biological function of this protein is to control some aspect of cytoskeletal organization.