Cell polarization is of fundamental importance to the morphogenesis of living organisms. Polarized epithelial cells comprise the foundation for the majority of organs in the mammalian body, and defects in polarity and intercellular junctions are responsible for multiple diseases of the kidney, skin, and intestine. A deep knowledge of epithelial morphogenesis is essential, therefore, to understanding the development both of normal tissues and of many human diseases. The PAR proteins are key components of the polarity machinery and interact with other polarity proteins, such as CRUMBS, PALS1, and atypical protein kinase c (aPKC). Some of these factors play important roles beyond those associated with polarity, including cell division and survival. In previous funding periods we made substantial contributions to the current understanding of cell polarity complexes and their functions. Recently, several interactions with membrane transport factors have been uncovered, illuminating a long-suspected link to polarized vesicle transport. Nonetheless, the molecular mechanisms coupling polarity proteins to vesicle traffic are still not well understood. In this project, we will exploit new technologies in gene-editing and microscopy to investigate with unprecedented resolution vesicle tethering at the plasma membrane and its regulation by PAR polarity proteins, apical membrane formation, and novel factors involved in this process. Using CAS9 gene-editing, we have created multiple epithelial cell lines that express functional, fluorophore-tagged alleles of the endogenous exocyst subunits, exocyst regulators and multiple polarity proteins, using both mouse mammary epithelial cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs). Analysis of these lines by multi-channel total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM) or near-TIRF (HILO) imaging, and quantitative mass spectrometry (MS) will enable the resolution of long-standing questions about the regulation of exocyst and polarity complex dynamics. Because CRB regulates apical size and is a key regulator of HIPPO signaling, its concentration at the apical membrane must be closely regulated, but the mechanisms for this control are not understood. We developed a new assay to study apical protein dynamics, using a fusion of GFP-binding peptide (GBP) to the extracellular domain of CRB3. Addition of recombinant GFP rapidly tags this protein. We exploited this system to perform a genome-wide CRISPR knockout screen to identify factors that regulate apical CRB3 localization. Candidate proteins, and known factors such as the polarity proteins PAR6 and aPKC will be functionally analyzed using HILO imaging and a system to synchronously release CRB3 after trapping it in the ER. Together these studies will provide important new insights into the connections between vesicle traffic and the cell polarity machinery.

Public Health Relevance

Most tissues in the body are composed of epithelial cells, which have a surface that faces outwards into the environment, and one that faces inwards. This property is called polarity, and defects in polarity contribute to multiple human diseases. Our project aims to understand the fundamental mechanisms of epithelial cell polarity, using sophisticated microscopy and gene editing techniques, with the goal of discovering at a molecular level how the cell machinery that controls polarity interfaces with the machinery that delivers new membrane to the outer surface of the cells.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Intercellular Interactions Study Section (ICI)
Program Officer
Xu, Jianhua
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Anatomy/Cell Biology
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Ahmed, Syed Mukhtar; Nishida-Fukuda, Hisayo; Li, Yuchong et al. (2018) Exocyst dynamics during vesicle tethering and fusion. Nat Commun 9:5140
Ahmed, Syed Mukhtar; Macara, Ian G (2017) The Par3 polarity protein is an exocyst receptor essential for mammary cell survival. Nat Commun 8:14867
Ahmed, Syed Mukhtar; Macara, Ian G (2016) Mechanisms of polarity protein expression control. Curr Opin Cell Biol 42:38-45
Guyer, Richard A; Macara, Ian G (2015) Loss of the polarity protein PAR3 activates STAT3 signaling via an atypical protein kinase C (aPKC)/NF-?B/interleukin-6 (IL-6) axis in mouse mammary cells. J Biol Chem 290:8457-68
Iioka, Hidekazu; Macara, Ian G (2015) Detection of RNA-Protein Interactions Using Tethered RNA Affinity Capture. Methods Mol Biol 1316:67-73
Macara, Ian G; Guyer, Richard; Richardson, Graham et al. (2014) Epithelial homeostasis. Curr Biol 24:R815-25
Huo, Yongliang; Macara, Ian G (2014) The Par3-like polarity protein Par3L is essential for mammary stem cell maintenance. Nat Cell Biol 16:529-37
Rodriguez-Boulan, Enrique; Macara, Ian G (2014) Organization and execution of the epithelial polarity programme. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 15:225-42
Andreeva, Anna; Lee, Jianyi; Lohia, Madhura et al. (2014) PTK7-Src signaling at epithelial cell contacts mediates spatial organization of actomyosin and planar cell polarity. Dev Cell 29:20-33
Baschieri, Francesco; Confalonieri, Stefano; Bertalot, Giovanni et al. (2014) Spatial control of Cdc42 signalling by a GM130-RasGRF complex regulates polarity and tumorigenesis. Nat Commun 5:4839

Showing the most recent 10 out of 37 publications