Self-organization of apical membrane protein sorting in epithelial cells.
Polarized epithelial cells are characterized by the asymmetric distribution of proteins between apical and basolateral domains of the plasma membrane. This asymmetry is highly conserved and is fundamental to epithelial cell physiology, development, and homeostasis. How proteins are segregated for apical or basolateral delivery, a process known as sorting, has been the subject of considerable investigation for decades. Despite these efforts, the rules guiding apical sorting are poorly understood and remain controversial. Here, we consider mechanisms of apical membrane protein sorting and argue that they are largely driven by self-organization and biophysical principles. The preponderance of data to date is consistent with the idea that apical sorting is not ruled by a dedicated protein-based sorting machinery and relies instead on the concerted effects of oligomerization, phase separation of lipids and proteins in membranes, and pH-dependent glycan interactions.
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