In the course of screening a cDNA library for ras-related Dictyostelium discoideum genes, we cloned a 0.7 kb cDNA (rabD) encoding a putative protein that was 70% identical at the amino acid level to human Rab4. Rab4 is a small M(r) GTPase, which belongs to the Ras superfamily and functions to regulate endocytosis in mammalian cells. Southern blot analysis indicated that the rabD cDNA was encoded by a single copy gene while Northern blot analysis revealed that the rabD gene was expressed at relatively constant levels during growth and differentiation. Affinity-purified antibodies were prepared against a RabD fusion protein expressed in bacteria; the antibodies recognized a single 23 kDa polypeptide on western blots of cell extracts. Density gradient fractionation revealed that the RabD antigen co-distributed primarily with buoyant membranes rich in vacuolar protons pumps (V-H(+)-ATPases) and, to a lesser extent, with lysosomes. This result was confirmed by examining cell lines expressing an epitope-tagged version of RabD. Magnetically purified early endocytic vesicles and post-lysosomal vacuoles reacted more weakly with anti-RabD antibodies than did lysosomes. Other organelles were negative for RabD. Double-label indirect immunofluorescence microscopy revealed that RabD and the 100 kDa V-H(+)-ATPase subunit colocalized in a fine reticular network throughout the cytoplasm. This network was reminiscent of spongiomes, the tubular elements of the contractile vacuole system. Immunoelectron microscopy confirmed the presence of RabD in lysosome fractions and in the membranes rich in V-H(+)-ATPase. We conclude that a Rab4-like GTPase in D. discoideum is principally associated with the spongiomes of contractile vacuole complex.

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