Targeting of rough endoplasmic reticulum membrane proteins and ribosomes in invertebrate neurons.
ABSTRACT The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is divided into rough and smooth domains (RER and SER). The two domains share most proteins, but RER is enriched in some membrane proteins by an unknown mechanism. We studied RER protein targeting by expressing fluorescent protein fusions to ER membrane proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans. In several cell types RER and general ER proteins colocalized, but in neurons RER proteins were concentrated in the cell body, whereas general ER proteins were also found in neurites. Surprisingly RER membrane proteins diffused rapidly within the cell body, indicating they are not localized by immobilization. Ribosomes were also concentrated in the cell body, suggesting they may be in part responsible for targeting RER membrane proteins.
- SourceAvailable from: jneurosci.org[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Sorting of RNAs to specific subcellular loci occurs in diverse settings from fly oocytes to mammalian neurons. Using the membrane-permeable nucleic acid stain SYTO 14, we directly visualized the translocation of endogenous RNA in living cells. Labeled RNA was distributed nonrandomly as discrete granules in neuronal processes. The labeled granules colocalized with poly(A+) mRNA, with the 60S ribosomal subunit, and with elongation factor 1alpha, suggesting that granules represent a translational unit. A subset of labeled granules colocalized with beta-actin mRNA. Correlative light and electron microscopy indicated that the fluorescent granules corresponded to clusters of ribosomes at the ultrastructural level. Poststaining of sections with heavy metals confirmed the presence of ribosomes within these granules. In living neurons, a subpopulation of RNA granules was motile during the observation period. They moved at an average rate of 0.1 microm/sec. In young cultures their movements were exclusively anterograde, but after 7 d in culture, one-half of the motile granules moved in the retrograde direction. Granules in neurites were delocalized after treatment with microtubule-disrupting drugs. These results raise the possibility of a cellular trafficking system for the targeting of RNA in neurons.Journal of Neuroscience 01/1997; 16(24):7812-20. · 6.91 Impact Factor
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: A continuum description for diffusion in a simple model for an inhomogeneous but isotropic media is derived and implemented numerically. The locally averaged density of diffusible marker is input from experiment to define the sample. Then a single additional parameter, the effective diffusion constant, permits the quantitative simulation of diffusive relaxation from any initial condition. Using this simulation, it is possible to model the recovery of a fluorescently tagged protein in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) after photobleaching a substantial region of a live cell, and fit an effective diffusion constant which is a property both of the geometry of the ER and the marker. Such quantitative measurements permit inferences about the topology and internal organization of this organelle.Biophysical Journal 11/2000; 79(4):1761-70. · 3.67 Impact Factor
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: We have examined transfected cells by immunofluorescence microscopy to determine the signals and structural features required for the targeting of integral membrane proteins to the inner nuclear membrane. Lamin B receptor (LBR) is a resident protein of the nuclear envelope inner membrane that has a nucleoplasmic, amino-terminal domain and a carboxyl-terminal domain with eight putative transmembrane segments. The amino-terminal domain of LBR can target both a cytosolic protein to the nucleus and a type II integral protein to the inner nuclear membrane. Neither a nuclear localization signal (NLS) of a soluble protein, nor full-length histone H1, can target an integral protein to the inner nuclear membrane although they can target cytosolic proteins to the nucleus. The addition of an NLS to a protein normally located in the inner nuclear membrane, however, does not inhibit its targeting. When the amino-terminal domain of LBR is increased in size from approximately 22.5 to approximately 70 kD, the chimeric protein cannot reach the inner nuclear membrane. The carboxyl-terminal domain of LBR, separated from the amino-terminal domain, also concentrates in the inner nuclear membrane, demonstrating two nonoverlapping targeting signals in this protein. Signals and structural features required for the inner nuclear membrane targeting of proteins are distinct from those involved in targeting soluble polypeptides to the nucleoplasm. The structure of the nucleocytoplasmic domain of an inner nuclear membrane protein also influences targeting, possibly because of size constraints dictated by the lateral channels of the nuclear pore complexes.The Journal of Cell Biology 08/1995; 130(1):15-27. · 10.82 Impact Factor
Molecular Biology of the Cell
Vol. 13, 1778–1791, May 2002
Targeting of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum
Membrane Proteins and Ribosomes in
Melissa M. Rolls,*†David H. Hall,‡Martin Victor,§Ernst H. K. Stelzer,?and
Tom A. Rapoport,*¶
Departments of *Cell Biology and§Pathology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115;
‡Center for C. elegans Anatomy, Department of Neuroscience, Albert Einstein College of Medicine,
Bronx, New York 10461; and?Light Microscopy Group and Cell Biophysics Programme, European
Molecular Biology Laboratory, D-69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Submitted October 22, 2001; Revised January 28, 2002; Accepted February 14, 2002
Monitoring Editor: Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz
The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is divided into rough and smooth domains (RER and SER). The
two domains share most proteins, but RER is enriched in some membrane proteins by an
unknown mechanism. We studied RER protein targeting by expressing fluorescent protein fusions
to ER membrane proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans. In several cell types RER and general ER
proteins colocalized, but in neurons RER proteins were concentrated in the cell body, whereas
general ER proteins were also found in neurites. Surprisingly RER membrane proteins diffused
rapidly within the cell body, indicating they are not localized by immobilization. Ribosomes were
also concentrated in the cell body, suggesting they may be in part responsible for targeting RER
The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is an extensive intracellular
membrane system. It is important for a number of cellular
functions including translocation of secretory proteins
across the membrane, insertion of membrane proteins, lipid
synthesis, calcium storage and signaling, and separation of
nucleoplasm from cytoplasm. Its structure varies depending
on cell type. Often two domains, rough and smooth ER (RER
and SER), can be distinguished. Although this distinction
has been noted for many years, nothing is known about how
proteins are targeted to the two domains.
In animal cells the ER forms a network that extends
throughout the cell, and in several different cell types this
network has been shown to be continuous. In one kind of
experiment, green fluorescent protein (GFP) fused to a mem-
brane protein that was localized in the ER, or GFP targeted
to the lumen of the ER, could be bleached from the entire cell
by repeatedly exposing a part of the cell to intense laser light
(Cole et al., 1996; Subramanian and Meyer, 1997; Dayel et al.,
1999). The rapidity of bleaching suggested that the proteins
are freely diffusible in a continuous membrane network. In a
different kind of experiment, fluorescent dye from an oil
droplet diffused from directly contacted membranes into a
continuous membrane network, which extended throughout
both sea urchin eggs and Purkinje neurons, and is most
likely the ER (Terasaki and Jaffe, 1991; Terasaki et al., 1994).
In view of this continuity it is interesting to understand how
domains within the ER might be established.
SER and RER were initially identified by electron micros-
copy; the RER is decorated with ribosomes, whereas the SER
is not. Although the membranes often look quite different,
they were classified as domains of the same organelle be-
cause connections between the two types of membrane were
observed (cf. Fawcett, 1981). RER must be present in all cells
because in all cells nascent proteins are inserted into the
membrane from ER-bound ribosomes. SER is prominent in
certain cell types, such as liver, steroid-synthesizing cells,
muscle, and neurons. The relationship between SER and
Article published online ahead of print. Mol. Biol. Cell 10.1091/
mbc.01–10–0514. Article and publication date are at www.molbiol-
¶Corresponding author. E-mail address: tom_rapoport@hms.
‡Present address: Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon
1254, Eugene, OR 97403.
Abbreviations used: Deff, effective diffusion coefficient; ER, en-
doplasmic reticulum; SER, smooth endoplasmic reticulum; RER,
rough endoplasmic reticulum; NE, nuclear envelope; FP, fluo-
rescent protein; FRAP, fluorescence recovery after photobleach-
ing; GFP, green fluorescent protein; CFP, cyan fluorescent pro-
tein; YFP, yellow fluorescent protein; LBR, lamin B receptor;
SP12, signal peptidase 12-kDa subunit; PIS, phosphatidylinositol
1778© 2002 by The American Society for Cell Biology
RER composition has been best studied in liver tissue, where
the two types of membranes can be separated by biochem-
ical fractionation. Subsequent analysis of their enzyme ac-
tivities and protein composition indicated that most proteins
present in one domain are also found in the other (Depierre
and Dallner, 1975; Kreibich et al., 1978). The major exception
to the generalization that RER and SER have the same pro-
tein composition is the enrichment of several membrane
proteins in the RER (Kreibich et al., 1978). ER membrane
proteins can thus be divided between those that are concen-
trated in the RER, RER membrane proteins, and those that
are not, general ER proteins. By fractionation of liver cells,
ribophorins I and II (components of the oligosaccharyl trans-
ferase) were found to be enriched in the RER (Kreibich et al.,
1978), as was a subunit of signal peptidase and TRAP?
(SSR?; Vogel et al., 1990) and Sec61? (Meyer et al., 2000). The
common feature of these proteins is that they are involved
either in translocation of proteins across the ER membrane
(Rapoport et al., 1996) or in their modification during trans-
location. Several studies have suggested that another mem-
brane protein involved in the translocation process, the SRP-
receptor, is not restricted to the RER (Tajima et al., 1986;
Vogel et al., 1990). Thus, some, but perhaps not all, mem-
brane proteins involved in translocation of newly synthe-
sized proteins across the ER membrane are highly concen-
trated in the RER.
The basic questions about RER protein localization are
unresolved, in part because most experiments have been
performed with fractionated liver. It is not known how
evolutionarily conserved the targeting of RER membrane
proteins within the ER might be. Nor is it known how
general the phenomenon is between cell types: are RER
membrane proteins targeted to a subregion of the ER mem-
brane only in liver and a few other cell types, or is their
localization a general feature of all cells? It is also not clear
whether RER membrane proteins are in fact localized in live
cells or only in mechanically disrupted cells. In two cases
RER membrane proteins have been observed by immuno-
electron microscopy to be localized within the ER (Hortsch
et al., 1985; Vogel et al., 1990), but again the cells were
severely perturbed before examination. The mechanism by
which RER membrane proteins are localized also remains
unknown. Several models have been suggested but not
tested. For example RER membrane proteins have been pro-
posed to be interconnected by a filamentous network that
would allow them to segregate into portions of the ER
(Kreibich et al., 1978; Ivessa et al., 1992). It has also been
proposed that the linkage of translocation proteins to the
ribosome would restrict their diffusion and allow them to be
localized (Vogel et al., 1990). Alternatively a selective diffu-
sion barrier could exist between RER and SER.
Protein targeting to the nuclear envelope (NE), a different
ER domain, has been studied, and may be instructive for
thinking about RER membrane protein localization (for a
review of ER domains, see Baumann and Walz, 2001). The
NE is a double-membrane structure in which the outer
membrane is connected to the peripheral ER and the inner
membrane is connected to the outer at the nuclear pore. In
animal cells it is distinguished from the rest of the ER by
nuclear pores and a set of membrane proteins enriched in
the inner NE. For the lamin B receptor (LBR) the NE target-
ing domain was shown to be present in the nucleoplasmic
portion of the protein (Soullam and Worman, 1993). The
same region of the protein contains determinants for bind-
ing lamins (Worman et al., 1988; Ye and Worman, 1994).
These observations led to the proposal that LBR is synthe-
sized in the peripheral ER like other membrane proteins and
then diffuses throughout the ER until entering the inner NE,
where it binds to lamins. The binding of LBR to nuclear
proteins would serve to concentrate it in the inner NE (Soul-
lam and Worman, 1993, 1995). This model has since gained
support from studies of the diffusional mobility of NE mem-
brane proteins. In contrast to general ER membrane proteins
which diffuse very rapidly, NE membrane proteins are es-
sentially immobile (Ellenberg et al., 1997; O¨stlund et al., 1999;
Rolls et al., 1999), most likely because of the binding inter-
action which is responsible for concentrating them in the
NE. RER membrane proteins could be similarly immobilized
and localized by a binding partner.
In this study we establish a system to examine RER mem-
brane protein localization in live cells. We expressed fluo-
rescent protein (FP, variants of GFP) fusions to membrane
proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans and observed their local-
ization in a variety of cell types in live worms. In several cell
types tagged RER and general ER proteins colocalized.
However in neurons RER markers, and ribosomes, were
concentrated in the cell body while general ER markers were
present in both the cell body and neurites. We found that the
mobility of RER membrane proteins in the cell body was
high compared with NE membrane proteins, indicating that
RER membrane proteins are not localized by immobiliza-
tion. We consider models for RER membrane protein local-
ization in light of the unexpected mobility of these proteins.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
C. elegans Culture and Transgenic Lines
C. elegans were grown according to standard methods (Lewis and
Fleming, 1995). Transgenic worm lines were constructed by inject-
ing DNA into the gonad of young adult worms (Mello and Fire,
1995). For all worm lines 4 ?g/ml of each expression plasmid,
generally a cyan FP (CFP)-encoding plasmid and a yellow FP (YFP)-
encoding one, were mixed in water with 92 ?g/ml pRF4 DNA,
which was used as an array marker (Mello and Fire, 1995). Roller
worms were maintained by repeated selection of the phenotype.
Several transgenic lines were made for each construct, and the one
expressing a low amount of protein was chosen for analysis to
minimize mislocalization due to overexpression.
A set of vectors to make C- and N- terminal CFP and YFP protein
fusions was created from the Fire lab vectors (www.ciwemb.edu).
The parent plasmid was pPD122.13. Nuclear localization signals
were excised from this vector with KpnI. Next the GFP was replaced
with CFP, PCR amplified from pPD136.61 or YFP from pPD136.64
using the KpnI and NheI sites. During this PCR step, polylinkers
were added at the N- or C-terminus of the CFP or YFP coding
sequence. To make fusion proteins with the FP at the N terminus of
the protein, the FP was amplified with CTAAA before the start
codon of the FP. At the 3? end of the FP coding sequence the stop
codon was omitted, and the following sequence was added in frame
with the FP coding sequence: 5?GGCGGGGGACTCGACACGCG-
TATGCATCCCGGGAGATCTGGCGCGCC3?. This sequence adds a
flexible linker containing several glycines as well as restriction sites
in which to insert coding sequences. The two vectors generated
were called pCN and pYN (for C/YFP at the N-terminus). Vectors
RER Membrane Protein Targeting in Neurons
Vol. 13, May 20021779
to fuse the FP to the C-terminus of proteins were also created. The
following sequence was added upstream of the FP start codon:
GACTCGACGGC3?. Again cloning sites and a flexible linker were
added. In this case the FP coding region was amplified with the stop
codon intact. The vectors generated were pYC and pCC.
To these basic vectors, promoters were added into the polylinker
present from the starting vector. The rpl-28 promoter was PCR
amplified from Fire lab vector pPD129.57. The myo-3 promoter was
PCR amplified from pPD136.61 The glr-1 promoter was PCR am-
plified from plasmid pKP6 (Hart et al., 1995). The dpy-7 promoter
was PCR amplified from genomic DNA based on Gilleard et al.
(1997); the amplified region corresponded to nucleotides 567–781 in
locus CEDPY7. Each promoter was cloned into the four fusion
vectors so that there were sets of vectors, for example, pgYC, pgYN,
pgCC, pgCN, all of which contained a particular promoter, in this
To make plasmids that expressed FP-fusion proteins in worms,
genomic coding regions, amplified from cosmids or genomic DNA,
of predicted proteins were inserted into vectors like pgYC. Com-
plete coding regions were used except for Golgi markers. The se-
quence names for the predicted ER proteins are listed in Figure 3D.
One of the ER proteins was not predicted in WormBase, but a
sequence very similar to TRAP? was present on cosmid Y69A2. The
location of the tag is also indicated in Figure 3D. For the NE marker,
full-length emerin (M01D7.6) was PCR amplified and inserted into
the pYC series of vectors such that the FP would be fused to the
C-terminus of the protein. Similarly the Golgi marker, mans (for
mannosidase-short) was tagged at the C-terminus with the FP. In
this case, however, only a short region of the coding sequence was
PCR amplified. The fusion protein is predicted to contain 82 amino
acids from the sequence F58H1.1 fused to YFP. The plasma mem-
brane marker YFP-GPI was constructed by inserting a signal se-
quence upstream of YFP and a GPI-anchoring sequence down-
stream. The signal sequence and GPI anchor sequence were kindly
provided by Joachim Fu ¨llekrug (Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular
Cell Biology and Genetics).
For observation, C. elegans were mounted on 2% agarose pads on
glass slides in 10 ?l 0.1% tetramisole/1% tricaine in M9. A coverslip
was placed on top, excess agarose was cut away, and the coverslip
was sealed with nail polish. Worms were observed between 10 and
60 min after mounting. Generally L2 or L3 worms were analyzed.
Microscopy was performed using the Compact Confocal Camera
(CCC) at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. CFP was
excited with a 430-nm laser, and YFP with a 514-nm laser as de-
scribed in White et al. (1999). Frame interlace collection was used for
most images, except Figure 2B for which line interlace collection
was used. Images were taken using a 63? 1.4 NA Plan-Apochromat
DIC objective (Carl Zeiss, Thornwood, NY), and processed using
NIH Image 1.62 and Canvas 6 (Deneba Systems, Inc., Miami, FL).
Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) experiments
were also performed using the CCC set up as described for imaging.
A single bleach scan at full laser power and integration time of 250
?s was used for most experiments. For YFP bleaching either a 20/80
universal beamsplitter or a specific CFP/YFP beamsplitter was used
with similar results. For CFP bleaching the CFP/YFP beamsplitter
was used and integration time was 100 ?s. Images of the whole cell
were collected before the bleach, immediately after, and every 10 s
thereafter. Quantitation was performed using NIH Image 1.62. Total
pixel intensity was summed in a background region of the image,
part of the bleached region of the cell, and part of the unbleached
region for each time point. Background was subtracted from both
bleached and unbleached values, and then the ratio of bleached to
unbleached was taken for each time point and divided by the initial
prebleach ratio to correct for difference in intensity between regions
of the cell. Simulations of FRAP experiments were performed using
Virtual Cell (Schaff et al., 2000; http://www.nrcam.uchc.edu/). A
computer program that analyzes diffusion in complex structures
(Siggia et al., 2000) was also used to determine diffusion coefficients
for some data sets.
General TEM methods have been described previously (Hall, 1995).
To accentuate the staining of ribosomes within neuronal cytoplasm,
several fast freezing methods were explored, followed by freeze
substitution and plastic embedment (cf. McDonald, 1998; Williams-
Masson et al., 1998). Briefly, we used either metal mirror fixation or
high-pressure freezing to quickly immobilize live animals on a piece
of filter paper, inside a sealed piece of flexible dialysis tubing, or in
a slurry of yeast or Escherichia coli. The frozen samples were then
slowly exposed to a primary fixative of osmium tetroxide in meth-
anol or acetone and, while still kept very cold, dehydrated through
solvents, and infiltrated with plastic resin. After curing, the animals
were thin-sectioned and poststained for TEM by conventional
means. Microscopy was done using a Philips CM10 electron micro-
scope (Mahwah, NJ).
C. elegans Can Be Used to Study ER Proteins in
Live Differentiated Cells
We wanted to establish a system in which to study ER
protein localization in multiple differentiated cell types. C.
elegans cells can be observed while the organism is alive and
intact. To visualize the ER in different C. elegans cell types,
the coding sequence of GFP variants was fused to the
genomic coding region of predicted ER membrane proteins.
These fusions were expressed under the control of cell type–
specific promoters. In various cell types, for example, body
wall muscle (Figure 1A), the FP-ER fusion was localized to a
reticular intracellular network that appeared similar to the
ER in many other types of cells. In head muscle cells the
distributions of predicted ER markers were compared with
those of FP-fusions to proteins predicted to be targeted to
other intracellular organelles. Again FP-ER markers, for ex-
ample, the signal peptidase 12-kDa subunit (SP12), were
localized to a reticular network (Figure 1B). In contrast a
FP-fusion to a NE protein, worm emerin (Lee et al., 2000),
was observed exclusively at the nuclear rim (Figure 1B).
FP-fusions to the stalk and transmembrane regions of two
predicted Golgi resident enzymes were targeted to spots
scattered throughout the cell (Figure 1B and our unpub-
lished results), a pattern consistent with localization of Golgi
proteins in other invertebrates (for example, Drosophila
[Stanley et al., 1997] and mosquito [Rolls et al., 1997]). The
plasma membrane was labeled with GPI anchored yellow
FP (YFP) and was clearly distinct from intracellular mem-
branes (Figure 1B). Thus FP-fusions to worm proteins can be
constructed based on analogy with mammalian homo-
logues, correctly targeted, and visualized in live cells.
In Several Cell Types RER and General ER
To determine whether RER membrane proteins are localized
to specific regions of the ER in different C. elegans cell types,
M.M. Rolls et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell1780
spectrally distinct variants of GFP were fused to ER proteins
and imaged in the same cells. Predicted RER membrane
proteins were chosen based on sequence similarity to mam-
malian proteins involved in translocation across the ER
membrane. General ER proteins were considered to be all
those ER proteins involved in functions other than translo-
cation across the membrane, for example, lipid synthesis.
FP fusions to predicted RER and general ER proteins were
expressed in hypodermal cells using the dpy-7 promoter,
and in intestinal cells using the general promoter rpl-28. In
both cell types phosphatidylinositol synthase (PIS, a general
ER protein) and TRAM (a protein involved in translocation
across the ER membrane) were present in the same reticular
membranes (Figure 2, A and B). In intestinal cells we occa-
sionally saw patches of membranes enriched only in PIS but
they were most obvious in deteriorating worms. Overall
RER membrane markers were not restricted to a region of
Ultrastructural analysis of C. elegans hypodermal and in-
testinal cells suggested an explanation for the colocalization
of FP fusions to predicted RER and general ER proteins.
Both cell types were filled with ribosomes and contained
abundant RER (Figure 2, C and D). We did not see any
evidence of SER, and if it is present in these cells, it must
account for only a small portion of the total ER. Thus, it is
likely that the colocalization of RER and general ER markers
in these cells is due to the paucity of SER.
In Neurons RER Membrane Proteins Are Localized
to a Subregion of the ER
Because neurons in other organisms contain SER, neurons
were chosen as a candidate cell type in which RER mem-
brane proteins might be spatially segregated. Neuronal
membranes have been best studied in mammals in highly
polarized neurons with axons and dendrites. C. elegans neu-
rons generally project only one or two unbranched neurites,
which are often both pre- and postsynaptic, and so are very
different from these mammalian neurons.
To visualize the ER in C. elegans neurons, FP-SP12 was
expressed under control of the glr-1 promoter (Figure 3A).
The glr-1 promoter drives expression in different classes of
motorneurons and interneurons (Hart et al., 1995), quite a
few of which send neurites into the ventral nerve cord. Most
of the cell bodies are located in the ganglia near the nerve
ring, although a few are in the retrovesicular ganglion pos-
terior to the nerve ring, and some are in the tail ganglia.
FP-SP12 fluorescence was visible continuously in the ventral
nerve cord (Figure 3A, labeled V), indicating that the neu-
rites contain ER. In addition to neuronal expression, the
vectors with the glr-1 promoter gave some expression in
several head muscles (see Figure 1B).
To determine whether any difference in localization of
RER and general ER membrane proteins could be detected
in neurons, FP-fusions to the two classes of predicted pro-
ER membrane proteins can be
localized to the ER in C. elegans.
(A) YFP-TRAM (YTRAM) was ex-
pressed in body wall muscle. A
single confocal plane is shown,
and the NE and surrounding
reticulum are visible. (B) In head
cellular membranes are easily dis-
and stalk (Ymans), YFP-emerin
pressed under the control of the
glr-1 promoter and imaged in
head muscles. In the Ymans and
YSP12 panels the nucleus is at the
right, and the anterior contractile
region of the cell is on the left.
Scale bars, 5 ?m.
FP fusions to predicted
RER Membrane Protein Targeting in Neurons
Vol. 13, May 20021781
teins were expressed under the glr-1 promoter. The predicted
general ER proteins were present in neurites as well as the cell
body, whereas most of the predicted RER membrane proteins
were concentrated in the cell body. Representative confocal
images of nerve rings from these two groups are shown in
Figure 3B. Both yellow FP (YFP)-cytochrome b5 and cyan FP
(CFP)-cytochrome P450, general ER markers, can be seen in
neurites that sweep across the nerve ring. In contrast the cell
bodies of neurons expressing the predicted RER markers YFP-
TRAM and YFP-TRAP? are brightly fluorescent, while the
neurites are barely visible. Slight fluorescence in the neurites is
probably due to overexpression.
proteins, and the ER itself, in hypodermal
and intestinal cells. (A) CFP-PIS and YFP-
TRAM were expressed in hypodermal
cells and imaged by confocal microscopy.
(B) CFP-PIS (CPIS)
(YTRAM) were imaged in intestinal cells
by confocal microscopy. Several regions
of the cell appear wavy because of move-
ment of the worm during imaging. (C) A
transverse section of a worm was exam-
ined by electron microscopy after immer-
sion fixation. A portion of a hypodermal
cell is shown. The cytoplasm is filled with
RER and free ribosomes. M, mitochon-
dria; P, an infolding of the plasma mem-
brane. The hypodermal cell is bounded on
the right by cuticle. (D) A portion of an
intestinal cell from a transverse section of a
worm viewed by electron microscopy and
fixed as in C is shown. MV, microvilli in the
lumen of the intestine; L, a probable lipid
droplet; and R, stacked regions of RER.
Scale bars: A and B, 5 ?m; C and D, 0.5 ?m.
Distribution of ER membrane
M.M. Rolls et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell1782
More rigorous comparisons between different classes of
ER membrane proteins were made in worms expressing two
ER proteins in the same cells. The expression patterns of
pairs of ER membrane proteins were compared by making
transgenic worm lines coexpressing CFP and YFP fusion
proteins. With the microscopy setup used, cross-talk be-
the glr-1 promoter. Muscle cells in the nose of the worm (M, cells at the tip of the nose on either side) as well as some other head cells express
the FP. Fluorescence is also seen in neurons in several head ganglia (H) near the nerve ring, in the retrovesicular ganglion (R), in tail ganglia
(T), and in neurites that project along the ventral nerve cord (V). (B) Nerve rings of worms expressing different predicted FP-ER markers were
imaged. The predicted general ER markers shown are YFP-cytochrome b5 (Ycb5) and CFP-cytochrome P450 (C450), and predicted RER
membrane proteins shown are YFP-RAMP4 (YRAMP4) and YFP-TRAP? (YTRAP?). Neurites sweeping across the nerve ring are marked N.
(C) CFP-PIS (PIS) was coexpressed with YFP-TRAM (top panel) and YFP-TRAP? (bottom panel). Neurites in the ventral nerve cord are
labeled V. (D) Summary of predicted FP-ER membrane proteins tested. FP fusions were to the full-length genomic region of the gene listed.
The FP is represented by the barrel structure. The predicted topologies are shown with the lumen at the top of the diagram. Scale bars are
5 ?m, except that in A, which is 10 ?m.
The localization of different ER membrane proteins in neurons is distinct. (A) YFP-SP12 (YSP12) was expressed under control of
RER Membrane Protein Targeting in Neurons
Vol. 13, May 2002 1783
tween the two channels is negligible (White et al., 1999).
Although CFP-PIS was present in the cell body and neurites,
YFP-TRAM was much more concentrated in the cell body
than the neurites (Figure 3C). Similar observations were
made for the CFP-PIS/YFP-TRAP? pair: the general ER
protein, CFP-PIS, was observed throughout the cell, whereas
the translocation protein, YFP-TRAP? was strongly enriched
in the cell body (Figure 3C).
Because fusions to GFP variants can sometimes cause
mistargeting of proteins and because the ER has not been
studied in worms, a number of different FP-ER fusions were
tested. The correlation between the predicted category of the
protein and observed localization (Figure 3D) strengthened
the validity of the fusions as markers for different classes of
ER proteins. Of three predicted general ER proteins tested,
all localized to both the cell body and neurites, consistent
with the hypothesis that they incorporate into, and distrib-
ute throughout, the ER membrane. Of the five homologues
of translocation proteins tested, four were enriched in the
cell body. The FP-fusion to the 12-kDa subunit of signal
peptidase (SP12) was distributed throughout the neurons
like the general ER membrane proteins. The signal peptidase
complex has been reported to fractionate with rough mem-
branes (Vogel et al., 1990) so this divergence in behavior
from other translocation proteins is likely to be caused by
fusion to the FP.
Although the major difference in localization of ER mem-
brane proteins in neurons was between those that were
concentrated in the cell body and those that were not, sev-
eral other differences were also observed. Relative to the
other FP-ER proteins studied, little FP-PIS was present in the
NE, and at the other extreme YFP-cytochrome b5 was par-
ticularly abundant in the NE. At present we have no expla-
nation for these differences in individual proteins so we
have focused on the broader distinction between general ER
proteins and those involved in translocation.
All Predicted ER Markers Are Localized to the ER,
and Observed Differences in Localization Are
Independent of the Imaging Conditions
Conclusions about localization of ER membrane proteins in
neurons from these experiments require that the FP-tagged
membrane proteins are stably localized to the ER. An alter-
nate explanation for the difference in distribution between
general ER markers and RER markers is that the general ER
markers escaped to the plasma membrane. We consider this
explanation unlikely. C. elegans neurons are small, and so it
is difficult to see a reticular ER structure in them; however,
all markers were observed in intracellular membranes. A
plasma membrane marker expressed in neurons, YFP-GPI
(see Figure 1B), was distinguishable from ER markers in the
cell body (unpublished results). Because the glr-1 promoter
also drove expression in head muscle cells, all ER markers
were examined in these cells as well. For each ER marker, a
reticular pattern was observed in head muscle cells (for
example, see Figure 1B). In these cells, and in the larger cells
(e.g., intestine, hypodermis, and body wall muscle) we ex-
amined, no evidence of plasma membrane fluorescence was
seen (Figures 1 and 2, A and B).
We tested the imaging conditions to make sure they were
robust enough to reliably detect fluorescence in neurites and
were not influenced by differences in the properties of YFP
and CFP. First we fused CFP and YFP to the same membrane
protein, PIS, and imaged the two fusions in the same neu-
rons. Both color tags gave the same result: PIS is present in
both the cell body and neurite (Figure 4A). Autofluorescence
is always higher in the CFP channel; the blobs that are seen
in many CFP images are autofluorescence and are unrelated
to the fusion protein being expressed. The second test we
performed was to make reciprocally tagged pairs of fusion
proteins and image both pairs. We expressed CFP-PIS and
YFP-TRAM in the same worm and compared the result to
YFP-PIS and CFP-TRAM expressed in a different worm.
Both pairs yielded the same conclusion: FP-TRAM is con-
centrated in the cell body, whereas FP-PIS is present in both
the cell body and neurites (Figure 4B). Therefore, the results
obtained were independent of which protein was tagged
with a particular GFP variant.
are independent of the imaging conditions used. (A) CFP-PIS (CPIS)
and YFP-PIS (YPIS) were coexpressed under the glr-1 promoter and
imaged in a neuron in the retrovesicular ganglion with the ventral
nerve cord (V) nearby. (B) In all panels cells in the retrovesicular
ganglion were imaged with the ventral nerve cord (V) passing close
by. In the top pair of panels CFP-PIS and YFP-TRAM (YTRAM)
were imaged in the same cells; in the bottom panels the tags were
switched so the TRAM was labeled with CFP and PIS was labeled
with YFP. Scale bars, 5 ?m.
Differences in the distribution of ER markers in neurons
M.M. Rolls et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell1784
Localization of RER Membrane Proteins Correlates
with Ultrastructural Observations of RER
Because most of the predicted RER membrane markers were
concentrated in the cell body, we tested whether morpho-
logically recognizable RER was also localized there. Electron
micrographs of C. elegans neurons show abundant free ribo-
somes, ribosomes on the outer nuclear membrane, and ribo-
somes on stretches of membrane in the rest of the cell body,
which in some sections are seen to be continuous with the
nuclear envelope (Figure 5A). In contrast membranes stud-
ded with ribosomes are not seen in the neurites. In regions of
synaptic contact many intracellular membranes are present
within the neurite, most identifiable as synaptic vesicles.
However, even in regions of the neurite that do not make
synaptic contact, an intracellular membrane profile is often
seen (Figure 5B). This membrane profile is smooth (ribo-
some-free) and often visible in many consecutive sections. It
varies in dimensions from section to section, shows irregular
swellings along its length, and is always larger than the
microtubules. The appearance of this membrane is consis-
tent with it being SER.
Ribosomes Are Concentrated and Immobilized in the
Neuron Cell Body
Because RER membrane proteins often associate with ribo-
somes, we tested whether ribosomes were also concentrated
in the cell body. By light microscopy a CFP-fusion to a
ribosomal subunit, L23A, was examined. L23A was chosen
to visualize ribosomes because a GFP-tagged version of the
yeast homolog can rescue an L23A knockout in yeast (Hurt
et al., 1999). In C. elegans neurons CFP-L23A was concen-
trated in the cell body (Figure 6A). Localization to a region
of the neuron was consistent with the tagged protein being
incorporated into ribosomes.
To test the incorporation of CFP-L23A into the ribosome,
we performed photobleaching experiments. Large objects
diffuse more slowly than small ones, and in cytoplasm sev-
eral groups have found this effect is much greater than
predicted based on theoretical considerations, suggesting
particles the size of ribosomes may be virtually immobile
(reviewed in Luby-Phelps, 2000). The mobility of ribosomes
themselves has not, however, been studied. Photobleaching
was performed by exposing a portion of a neuron expressing
CFP-L23A briefly to intense laser light. The cell was then
imaged over time to detect the change in fluorescence in the
bleached region relative to the fluorescence in the rest of the
cell. Over more than a minute very little fluorescence equil-
ibration was seen between the bleached and unbleached
regions of the cell (Figure 6B). In contrast, soluble YFP
equilibrated so quickly that under similar conditions the
bleached region could not be detected because recovery was
complete by the first postbleach image. The differences in
mobility are not due to bleaching CFP and YFP: in other
experiments the recovery of CFP and YFP versions of the
same protein was indistinguishable (our unpublished re-
sults). The low mobility of CFP-L23A was consistent with it
being incorporated into ribosomes. It also confirms that
ribosomes diffuse little in the cytoplasm. In some worms
CFP-L23A fluorescence was detectable at lower levels in the
neurites, but when it was bleached it recovered much more
quickly than the fluorescence in the cell body (unpublished
results). Thus the fluorescence in the neurite was probably
(A) The cell body of a neuron in which the ER membranes have become slightly distended during fixation is shown. The distention of the
ER makes it clear that the membranes are tightly covered with ribosomes, and highlights the connection of the peripheral ER with the NE.
Free ribosomes are also present. (B) A cross section of neurites in the ventral nerve cord is shown. Small regular circles are microtubules.
Larger irregular profiles are smooth membranes (arrowheads). Scale bars, 0.5 ?m.
At the ultrastructural level RER is observed in the cell body of C. elegans neurons, and smooth membranes are present in neurites.
RER Membrane Protein Targeting in Neurons
Vol. 13, May 20021785
free CFP-L23A that had escaped being incorporated into
To examine ribosome distribution at higher resolution,
electron micrographs of C. elegans from a variety of fixation
regimes were analyzed. Ribosomes were identifiable in all
preparations but were particularly prominent in high pres-
sure frozen worms because of enhanced contrast (Figure 6C,
left panel). In all worms ribosomes were abundant in neuron
cell bodies and rare or absent in neurites. Occasionally small
processes in nerve cords contained abundant ribosomes but
under control of the glr-1 promoter. Neurons of the retrovesicular ganglion and the nearby ventral nerve cord were imaged. (B) Photo-
bleaching experiments were performed on cell bodies of neurons expressing CFP-L23A. A region of the cell was bleached (boxed area in
example at the right), and images were acquired immediately after the bleach and then every 10 s. After background fluorescence was
subtracted, the ratio of fluorescence in the bleached and an unbleached area of the cell was calculated (relative fluorescence). The average of
six experiments and the 90% confidence interval are plotted on the graph. (C) In the electron micrograph in the left panel ribosomes
(electron-dense pepper-like spots) can be seen filling neuronal cell bodies (CB) and are absent from a bundle of neurites (N). In the middle
panel the ending of a ciliated sensory neuron in the nose is shown. A cluster of ribosomes near a microtubule is identified by an arrowhead.
In the right panel a lengthwise section of part of the ventral nerve cord is shown with adjacent cells at the left of the panel. In the adjacent
cells ribosomes appear as very distinct electron dense dots. A few similar dots are present in a presynaptic nerve terminal (white arrowhead).
Synaptic vesicles are also present in this nerve terminal (black arrowhead) and below the synaptic vesicles is a dyad synapse onto the neurite
below and the muscle cell to the left. A few electron dense dots that are probably ribosomes are also present in the postsynaptic neurite. Scale
bars, A and B: 5 ?m. Scale bars, C, left and right panels: 0.5 ?m; C, middle panel: 0.2 ?m.
Ribosomes are highly concentrated in the cell bodies of neurons. (A) CFP-L23A (CL23A) and YFP-SP12 (YSP12) were coexpressed
M.M. Rolls et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell1786
most could be attributed to fingers of hypodermal cells. One
case in which ribosomes were identified in neurites was a
cluster of ribosomes in the ciliated sensory ending of a
dendrite in the nose (Figure 6C, middle panel). Small clus-
ters of ribosomes were also occasionally noted within neu-
rites in regions of synaptic neuropil (Figure 6C, right panel),
either presynaptically, postsynaptically, or as small clusters
close to a microtubule bundle. Most appeared to be free
ribosomes but rarely may have been associated with mem-
brane. Thus, at both the light microscope and ultrastructural
level, ribosomes were abundant in the cell body and rare in
neurites, similar to RER membrane protein localization.
RER Membrane Proteins Diffuse Rapidly
To test whether RER membrane proteins are immobilized
like NE membrane proteins, we compared the diffusion of
RER and general ER membrane proteins. To compare the
two classes of proteins, photobleaching experiments (FRAP)
were performed on worm neurons expressing FP-ER mem-
brane proteins. These experiments were technically difficult
because of slight movements of the worms, low fluorescence
signal, the small size of the neurons, and their localization
inside the body. To demonstrate that the bleaching protocol
used can detect differences in mobility, we compared the
fluorescence recovery of a NE protein with that of general
ER proteins. The NE protein used was a YFP fusion to C.
elegans emerin, which resides in the NE (Lee et al., 2000). The
mammalian homolog has a low diffusional mobility relative
to general ER proteins (O¨stlund et al., 1999; Rolls et al., 1999),
and we found that the C. elegans protein also diffused very
slowly. The bleached area remained obvious throughout the
time course of the experiment (Figure 7A). Quantitation
confirmed that there was little equilibration between
bleached and unbleached areas of the cell (Figure 7B). In
contrast, when a general ER protein was tested, fluorescence
equilibrated between the bleached and unbleached regions
of cell bodies in less than 30 s (see Figure 7A for examples).
Quantitation of the equilibration confirmed that it was very
rapid (Figure 7B).
Next we compared the mobility of RER and general ER
proteins (Figure 7A). In both cases, recovery was rapid
(Figure 7B). Like the general ER membrane proteins, fluo-
rescence of RER membrane proteins had equilibrated be-
tween bleached and unbleached regions of the cells by 30 s.
Thus, RER membrane proteins diffuse rapidly, and their
mobility is more comparable to that of general ER mem-
brane proteins than NE membrane proteins.
We have established C. elegans as a system in which to study
ER structure and membrane protein localization in live,
differentiated cells. It has not previously been possible to
compare the distribution of RER and general ER membrane
proteins easily in different cell types. By visualizing FP
fusions to ER membrane proteins we have been able to
compare localization of different classes of ER proteins in
various cell types. In several cell types the distribution of FP
fusions to RER and general ER membrane proteins over-
lapped at the light microscope level. In contrast, in neurons
RER membrane markers, ribosomes and RER itself, were
restricted to the cell body, whereas general ER markers were
present throughout the cell body and neurites.
SER Is a Specialized Domain Abundant Only in
Some Cell Types
In several different C. elegans cell types, including intestinal
and hypodermal cells, predicted general ER and RER mem-
brane proteins colocalized. An explanation for this lack of
separation comes from the ultrastructural observation that
RER is very abundant in these cell types and SER is rare or
absent. Thus, there is simply no, or little, membrane from
which RER membrane proteins would be expected to be
excluded. Our observations support the idea that SER is
present only in cells in which ER functions other than pro-
tein translocation across the membrane are very important.
We found general ER markers along the entire length of
neurites, consistent with the idea that calcium regulation is
an important function of neuronal ER (Takei et al., 1992).
Although the distribution of general ER proteins has been
relatively well studied in neurons, that of RER proteins has
not. Concentration of RER membrane proteins to a region of
the neuronal ER has only been reported with one antibody
to a single protein (Krijnse-Locker et al., 1995). In this case
one cannot exclude lack of detection of the RER membrane
protein by the antibody in narrow axons and dendrites.
Segregation of RER Membrane Proteins
In all cases where it has been tested, the ER is a continuous
membrane system (Baumann and Walz, 2001). Thus, the
lowest energy state for ER proteins is to be evenly distrib-
uted throughout the membrane. Within the ER there are at
least two well-established classes of membrane proteins that
are not distributed throughout the whole membrane system:
inner NE membrane proteins and RER membrane proteins.
C. elegans has recently been shown to contain an NE protein
analogous to vertebrate emerin (Lee et al., 2000), and we
show that its behavior at the NE is similar to that of mam-
malian NE membrane proteins. The localization of RER
membrane proteins to a region of the ER has previously
been observed only in vertebrates. By demonstrating that
segregation of RER membrane proteins occurs in C. elegans,
we show that it is likely to be an evolutionarily ancient
For inner NE membrane proteins, specific regions of the
protein contain targeting signals that are responsible for
localization. Our data suggest that RER membrane proteins
contain positive targeting signals that localize them to the
cell body in neurons. Although most RER markers ex-
pressed in C. elegans neurons were concentrated in the cell
body, one subunit of an established RER protein complex,
signal peptidase, was present in neurites when tagged with
YFP. The YFP perhaps interfered with assembly of the sub-
unit into the complex or disrupted an RER targeting signal
within the subunit itself. In either case, localization of this
protein throughout the neuron indicates that this pattern is
the default one; no targeting signal is required to gain access
to SER in the neurite. At high expression levels other RER
membrane proteins were observed in neurites (not shown).
Again this suggests that a signal is not required to enter the
neurite. It also indicates that the targeting mechanism to the
cell body is saturable.
RER Membrane Protein Targeting in Neurons
Vol. 13, May 20021787
Several basic mechanisms could be responsible for local-
ization of RER membrane proteins in neurons. One mecha-
nism that has been proposed (see Introduction), is a network
of interactions between RER proteins. This model predicts
random localization of RER in patches throughout the cell
and cannot explain why in neurons the RER is always found
in the cell body. At least three other basic mechanisms could
account for this localization. One type of mechanism is
binding of RER membrane proteins to a component present
only in the cell body. A second mechanism is a selective
diffusion barrier that does not allow RER membrane pro-
teins to gain access to the neurite. A third mechanism is
active retrieval from the neurite to the cell body.
Binding to a localized partner is conceptually the simplest
model and is analogous to the mechanism used to target
proteins to the NE. Ribosomes are the best candidate bind-
performed as in Figure 6. Bleached regions are indicated with boxes. The examples shown are YFP-emerin (Yemr), YFP-PIS (YPIS), and
YFP-RAMP4 (YRAMP4). The bleached region of PIS and RAMP4 is less distinct because they are mobile and proteins move in and out of the
region during bleaching. (B) Quantitation of bleaching experiments was performed as in Figure 6, except different numbers of experiments
were used for the different proteins. For emerin, six experiments were averaged, for PIS and RAMP4 three experiments, and for SP12 two
experiments. (C) Simulations of FRAP in two dimensions were performed using Virtual Cell (http://www.nrcam.uchc.edu/). Diffusion
coefficients of 0.5 ?m2/s (which is a standard value for membrane proteins in the ER; Nehls et al., 2000) and 0.1 ?m2/s were used to model
recovery at the center of a 3 ? 3-?m2bleach area. The total computational area was 20 ? 20 ?m2, and calculations were performed using a
0.4-?m mesh size and a 0.1-s time step. Scale bars, 5 ?m.
Concentration of RER membrane markers in the cell body does not require immobilization. (A) Photobleaching experiments were
M.M. Rolls et al.
Molecular Biology of the Cell1788
ing partner. Many RER membrane proteins associate di-
rectly or indirectly with ribosomes (Go ¨rlich and Rapoport,
1993), and so targeting could occur by either direct binding
to ribosomes or by lateral interactions with other RER mem-
brane proteins associated with ribosomes. Additionally in C.
elegans neurons the distribution of ribosomes and RER mem-
brane proteins is the same. Is this simple model consistent
with the behavior of RER and SER membrane proteins that
is observed in worm neurons?
Binding of RER membrane proteins to ribosomes would
be expected to affect both the localization and diffusion of
RER membrane proteins because ribosomes are virtually
immobile and are localized to a region of the cell. In the case
in which the binding reaction is rapid relative to diffusion,
which is likely to be the case for RER membrane proteins
and ribosomes, the degree of localization is directly related
to the observed diffusion in a FRAP experiment (Cowan et
al., 1997). For example a 10-fold concentration of an RER
membrane protein in the cell body would correspond to a
10-fold reduction in effective diffusion coefficient (Deff).
Therefore FRAP experiments like those in Figure 7 should
provide a test of this model. The FRAP data did not show
large differences between proteins that would not be ex-
pected to bind ribosomes, general ER proteins, and RER
membrane proteins, which would be expected to interact
with ribosomes (Figure 7B). These data do not, however,
rule out more subtle differences in Deff. Simulations from the
Virtual Cell program (Schaff et al., 2000; http://www.
nrcam.uchc.edu/) show that fluorescence recovery plots of
proteins with fivefold differences in Deffare not grossly
different (Figure 7C).
To determine whether subtle differences in Deffwere
present in our results, we processed sets of data collected at
5-s intervals with a program designed to analyze diffusion in
complex structures like the ER (Siggia et al., 2000). Several
data sets were analyzed reasonably well by the program and
yielded Deffranging from 0.1 to 0.5 ?m2/s, expected values
for ER proteins. Four of the data sets represented RER
membrane proteins and had Deffranging from 0.1 to 0.2
?m2/s. Two of the data sets were from general ER mem-
brane proteins and had Deff0.3 and 0.5 ?m2/s. It is impos-
sible to draw strong conclusions from so few samples and
from a system in which FRAP experiments are very difficult
to perform, but the results are consistent with a two- to
fivefold slower mobility of RER proteins. They could thus
explain up to a fivefold concentration of RER membrane
proteins in the cell body by immobilized ribosomes. To test
this model further, more precise FRAP experiments, prefer-
ably using larger cells in which RER membrane protein
targeting can also be observed, will be necessary. In addi-
tion, the C. elegans system established here could be used to
perform a screen to identify factors required for RER mem-
brane protein targeting. These factors may be involved in
targeting via ribosomes or may suggest additional mecha-
nisms by which RER membrane proteins are localized.
Targeting of Ribosomes within C. elegans Neurons
Protein synthesis in neurites is believed to be important for
synaptic modulation, so it is interesting to compare the
distribution of ribosomes in C. elegans with that in other
organisms. In mammalian neurons, ribosomes are most con-
centrated in the cell body and base of the dendrites. They are
also present in distal dendrites, but are largely excluded
from axons (Deitch and Banker, 1993; Knowles et al., 1996).
The axonal exclusion is not complete (Koenig et al., 2000),
but relative to dendrites few ribosomes are present in axons.
In invertebrates no compartment analogous to the mamma-
lian axon, in which ribosomes are very scarce, has been
described. This is, in part, due to lack of study. Where it has
been examined, protein synthetic machinery is present in
invertebrate neurites. In one of the simplest organisms with
neurons, hydra, ribosomes appear in the neurites (Lentz,
1966). In squid and mollusks ribosomes are abundant in
giant axons (Sotelo et al., 1999; Spencer et al., 2000), and in
the mollusk Aplysia presynaptic protein synthesis can be
important for synaptic plasticity (Martin et al., 1997). It has
been suggested that ribosomes are not excluded from axons
in invertebrates because the neurons are not as strictly po-
larized as vertebrate CNS neurons (Martin et al., 2000).
In C. elegans we found ribosomes were concentrated in the
cell body of neurons, and very rare in neurites. To our
knowledge this is the first description of an invertebrate
neuronal compartment in which ribosomes are rare, compa-
rable to mammalian axons. It is likely that similar compart-
ments exist in other invertebrates but have just not been
described in detail. Because most C. elegans neurites are both
pre- and postsynaptic, strict axonal polarity is not required
for exclusion of ribosomes from neurites. Another implica-
tion of this observation is that localization of ribosomes to
particular neuronal compartments may be ancestral to the
divergence of nematodes, mollusks, and vertebrates.
The mechanism by which ribosomes are excluded from
some neuronal compartments is not known. In other cell
types, one possibility that has been proposed to localize
ribosomes, at least to regions of the ER (Bergmann and
Fusco, 1990), is binding to RER membrane proteins. Consid-
ering the high mobility of RER membrane proteins relative
to ribosomes this is very unlikely. Another possibility is that
narrow processes exclude ribosomes based on their large
size. However, mitochondria are present in nematode neu-
rites, and other processes do not exclude ribosomes. For
example, fingers of hypodermal cells, which are similar in
diameter to neurites, often invade the ventral nerve cord in
C. elegans but are filled with ribosomes. It is therefore prob-
able that a more specific mechanism exists to exclude ribo-
somes from neurites. Although ribosomes are rare in both
mammalian axons and C. elegans neurites, some are present
(Koenig et al., 2000 and Figure 6C). In both cases the ribo-
somes seem to be localized to specific regions of the neurite,
indicating they may be specifically targeted there. It will be
interesting to determine whether they are accompanied by
particular mRNAs, as they are in mammalian dendrites
(reviewed in Kiebler and DesGroseillers, 2000). C. elegans
neurons may provide a useful system for understanding
how ribosomes are excluded from some neuronal compart-
ments and whether ribosomes that escape exclusion are
important for synaptic modulation.
The authors are grateful to the following: Jamie White for help with
the light microscopy; James Jonkman and Stephen Grill, for writing
the bleaching macro for the CCC; the CCC development team; the
Analytical Ultrastructure Center at AECOM and the laboratory of
Stan Erlandsen at the University of Minnesota, for providing spe-
RER Membrane Protein Targeting in Neurons
Vol. 13, May 20021789
cialized facilities; Frank Macaluso and Ya Chen for expert help in
fast freezing and freeze substitution methods; Kent McDonald for
help in discussing these protocols; Gloria and Tylon Stephney for
excellent help in electron microscopy; Yang Shi and the Hyman lab
for providing worm support. They are also grateful to Anne Hart for
providing the glr-1 promoter; the Fire lab at the Carnegie Institution
for vectors; and Alan Coulson at the Sanger Center for cosmids. The
ideas in this article were helped along by discussions with many
Slepchenko, and Reinhart Heinrich. The authors also thank Eric
Siggia for allowing them to use his diffusion analysis program; Erik
Snapp for indispensable help with the program; and Will Prinz and
particularly David Sabatini for comments on the manuscript. This
work was supported by National Institutes of Health grant RR
12596 to D.H.H. and GM58012 to Y.S. in whose lab M.V. works.
M.M.R. was a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow in the Biological
Sciences. T.A.R. is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical
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