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Gamma-protocadherins are enriched and transported in specialized vesicles associated with the secretory pathway in neurons


Mónica Fernández-Monreal or Greg R. Phillips
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Gamma protocadherins (Pcdh-γs) resemble classical cadherins and have the potential to engage in cell–cell interactions with homophilic properties. Emerging evidence suggests non-conventional roles for some protocadherins in neural development. We sought to determine whether Pcdh-γ trafficking in neurons is consistent with an intracellular role for these molecules. Here we show that, in contrast to the largely surface localization of classical cadherins, endogenous Pcdh-γs are primarily intracellular in rat neurons in vivo and are equally distributed within organelles of subsynaptic dendritic and axonal compartments. A strikingly higher proportion of Pcdh-γ-containing organelles in synaptic compartments was observed at postnatal day 16. To determine the origin of Pcdh-γ-trafficking organelles, we isolated organelles with Pcdh-γ antibody-coupled magnetic beads from brain organelle suspensions. Vesicles with high levels of COPII and endoplasmic reticulum–Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC) components were isolated with the Pcdh-γ antibody but not with the classical cadherin antibody. In cultured hippocampal neurons, Pcdh-γ immunolabeling partially overlapped with calnexin- and COPII-positive puncta in dendrites. Mobile Pcdh-γ-GFP profiles dynamically codistributed with a DsRed construct coupled to ER retention signals by live imaging. Pcdh-γ expression correlated with accumulations of tubulovesicular and ER-like organelles in dendrites. Our results are consistent with the possibility that Pcdh-γs could have a unique function within the secretory pathway in addition to their documented surface roles.