Human mammary epithelial cells rapidly exchange empty EGFR between surface and intracellular pools

J Cell Physiol. 1999 Sep;180(3):448-60. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-4652(199909)180:3<448::AID-JCP16>3.0.CO;2-8.


Binding of ligand to the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) initiates a series of processes including activation of the intrinsic EGFR tyrosine kinase, receptor autophosphorylation, and the assembly of active signaling complexes at the plasma membrane. Concomitantly, receptor trafficking is initiated, and the receptor is ultimately delivered to the lysosome, where it is degraded. Virtually all studies on EGFR trafficking have used fibroblasts and transformed cells. Because EGFR exerts a potent effect on the physiology of epithelial cells, we examined the regulation of EGFR activity and trafficking in nontransformed human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC). We found that HMEC that displayed a luminal phenotype were largely unresponsive to EGF and maintained a majority of their EGFR at the cell surface. In contrast, HMEC with a basal phenotype were highly responsive to EGF and, at steady state in the absence of exogenous ligand, distributed empty EGFR into intracellular pools. Maintenance of the intracellular pools was a direct consequence of specific and rapid endocytosis of the empty EGFR. The trafficking pattern was EGFR specific, used coated pits, and did not require receptor tyrosine kinase activity. Such an mechanism redistributes EGFR signaling potential among different membrane domains and into vesicles with unique biochemical microenviroments. In addition, our data show that EGFR endocytosis can be regulated in the absence of ligand binding and receptor activation in a cell-type-specific manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast / cytology
  • Breast / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Coated Pits, Cell-Membrane / metabolism
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Fluid / metabolism*
  • Ligands
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Distribution / physiology


  • Ligands
  • ErbB Receptors