Nuclear trafficking of FGFR1: a role for the transmembrane domain

J Cell Biochem. 2003 Apr 15;88(6):1273-91. doi: 10.1002/jcb.10476.


Several members of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family lack signal peptide (SP) sequences and are present only in trace amounts outside the cell. However, these proteins contain nuclear localization signals (NLS) and accumulate in the cell nucleus. Our studies have shown that full length FGF receptor 1 (FGFR1) accumulates within the nuclear interior in parallel with FGF-2. We tested the hypothesis that an atypical transmembrane domain (TM) plays a role in FGFR1 trafficking into the nuclear interior. With FGFR1 destined for constitutive fusion with the plasma membrane due to its SP, how the receptor may enter the nucleus is unclear. Sequence analysis identified that FGFR1 has an atypical TM containing short stretches of hydrophobic amino acids (a.a.) interrupted by polar a.a. The beta-sheet is the predicted conformation of the FGFR1 TM, in contrast to the alpha-helical conformation of other single TM tyrosine kinase receptors, including FGFR4. Receptor trafficking in live cells was studied by confocal microscopy via C-terminal FGFR1 fusions to enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) and confirmed by subcellular fractionation and Western immunoblotting. Nuclear entry of FGFR1-EGFP was independent of karyokinessis, and was observed in rapidly proliferating human TE671 cells, in slower proliferating glioma SF763 and post-mitotic bovine adrenal medullary cells (BAMC). In contrast, a chimeric FGFR1/R4-EGFP, where the TM of FGFR1 was replaced with that of FGFR4, was associated with membranes (golgi-ER, plasma, and nuclear), but was absent from the nucleus and cytosol. FGFR1delta-EGFP mutants, with hydrophobic TM a.a. replaced with polar a.a., showed reduced association with membranes and increased cytosolic/nuclear accumulation with an increase in TM hydrophilicity. FGFR1(TM-)-EGFP (TM deleted), was detected in the golgi-ER vesicles, cytosol, and nuclear interior; thus demonstrating that the FGFR1 TM does not function as a NLS. To test whether cytosolic FGFR1 provides a source of nuclear FGFR1, cells were transfected with FGFR1(SP-) (SP was deleted), resulting in cytosolic, non-membrane, protein accumulation in the cytosol and the cell nucleus. Our results indicate that an unstable association with cellular membranes is responsible for the release of FGFR1 into the cytosol and cytosolic FGFR1 constitutes the source of the nuclear receptor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / biosynthesis
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / chemistry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Sorting Signals / physiology
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / analysis
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / chemistry
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor / analysis
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor / chemistry
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors
  • FGFR1 protein, human
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1