The apical plasma membrane of epithelia presents the interface between organs and the external environment. It has biochemical activities distinct from those of the basal and lateral plasma membranes, as it accommodates the production and assembly of ordered apical matrices involved in organ protection and physiology and determines the microenvironment in the apical extracellular milieu. Here, we emphasise the importance of the apical plasma membrane in tissue differentiation, by mainly focussing on the embryo of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and discuss the principal organisation of the apical plasma membrane into repetitive subdomains of specific topologies and activities essential for epithelial function.
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