Background: The establishment and maintenance of cell polarity is crucial for many biological functions and is regulated by conserved protein complexes. The Par polarity complex consisting of Par3, Par6, and PKCzeta, in conjunction with Tiam1-mediated Rac signaling, controls apical-basal cell polarity in contacting epithelial cells. Here we tested the hypothesis that the Par complex, in conjunction with Tiam1, controls "front-rear" polarity during the persistent migration of freely migrating keratinocytes.
Results: Wild-type (WT) epidermal keratinocytes lacking cell-cell contacts are stably front-rear polarized and migrate persistently. In contrast, Tiam1-deficient (Tiam1 KO) and (si)Par3-depleted keratinocytes are generally unpolarized and migrate randomly because front-rear polarity is short lived. Immunoprecipitation experiments show that in migrating keratinocytes, Tiam1 associates with Par3 and PKCzeta. Moreover, Par3, PKCzeta, and Tiam1 proteins are enriched at the leading edges of polarized keratinocytes. Tiam1 KO keratinocytes are impaired in chemotactic migration toward growth factors, whereaes haptotactic migration is similar to WT. Par3 depletion or the blocking of PKCzeta signaling in WT keratinocytes impairs chemotaxis but has no additional effect on Tiam1 KO cells. The migratory and morphological defects in keratinocytes with impaired Par-Tiam1 function closely resemble cells with pharmacologically destabilized microtubules (MTs). Indeed, MTs in Tiam1 KO keratinocytes and WT cells treated with a PKCzeta inhibitor are unstable, thereby negatively influencing directional but not random migration.
Conclusions: We conclude that the Par-Tiam1 complex stabilizes front-rear polarization of noncontacting migratory cells, thereby stimulating persistent and chemotactic migration, whereas in contacting keratinocytes, the same complex controls the establishment of long-lasting apical-basal polarity. These findings underscore a remarkable flexibility of the Par polarity complex that, depending on the biological context, controls distinct forms of cellular polarity.