[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Bestrophin-1, an integral membrane protein encoded by the BEST1 gene, is localized predominantly to the basolateral membrane of the retinal pigment epithelium. Mutations in the BEST1 gene have been associated with Best vitelliforme macular dystrophy (BMD), a central retinopathy with autosomal dominant inheritance and variable penetrance. Over 120 disease-causing mutations are known, the majority of which result in amino acid substitutions within four mutational hot-spot regions in the highly conserved N-terminal half of the protein. Although initially thought to impair Cl⁻ channel function, the molecular pathology of BEST1 mutations is still controversial. We have analyzed the subcellular localization of 13 disease-associated BEST1 mutant proteins in polarized MDCK II cells, an established model of apical to basolateral protein sorting. Immunostaining demonstrated that nine of the 13 mutant proteins failed to integrate into the cell membrane. The defective proteins were predominantly retained in the cytoplasm, whereas wild-type bestrophin-1 revealed cell membrane localization. Functional analysis of I⁻ fluxes in HEK-293 cells showed that all mutants exhibited a significant reduction in anion conductance. Our data indicate that defective intracellular trafficking could be a common cause of BMD accompanied by impaired anion conductance, representing a loss of anion channel function that is probably due to mistargeting of mutant protein.