Invariant chain (Ii) is a transmembrane protein that associates with the MHC class II molecules in the endoplasmic reticulum. Two regions of the 30 residue cytoplasmic tail of Ii contain sorting information able to direct Ii to the endocytic pathway. The full-length cytoplasmic tail of Ii and the two tail regions were fused to neuraminidase (NA) forming chimeric proteins (INA). Ii is known to form trimers and when INA was transfected into COS cells it assembled as a tetramer like NA. The INA molecules were targeted to the endosomal pathway and cotransfection with Ii showed that both molecules appeared in the same vesicles. By labelling the INA fusion proteins with iodinated antibody it was found that molecules with either endocytosis signal were expressed at the plasma membrane and internalized rapidly. Point mutations revealed that an LI motif within the first region of the cytoplasmic tail and an ML motif in the second region were essential for efficient internalization. The region containing the LI motif is required for Ii to induce large endosomes but a functional LI internalization motif was not fundamental for this property. The cytoplasmic tail of Ii is essential for efficient targeting of the class II molecules to endosomes and the dual LI and ML motif may thus be responsible for directing these molecules to the endosomal pathway, possibly via the plasma membrane.

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