Background: Cell-cell adhesion and intracellular trafficking are regulated by signaling pathways from small GTPases of the Rho, Arf, and Rab subfamilies. How signaling from distinct small GTPases are integrated in a given process is poorly understood.
Results: We find that a TBC/RabGAP protein, Armus, integrates signaling between Arf6, Rac1, and Rab7 during junction disassembly. Armus binds specifically to activated Rac1 and its C-terminal TBC/RabGAP domain inactivates Rab7. Thus, Armus is a novel Rac1 effector and a bona fide GAP for Rab7 in vitro and in vivo, a unique and previously unreported combination. Arf6 activation efficiently disrupts cell-cell contacts and is known to activate Rac1 and Rab7. Arf6-induced E-cadherin degradation is efficiently blocked by expression of Armus C-terminal domain or after Armus RNAi. Coexpression of Arf6 with dominant-negative Rab7 or Rac1 also inhibits junction disassembly. Importantly, Armus RabGAP expression also prevents EGF-induced scattering in keratinocytes, a process shown here to require Arf6, Rac1, and Rab7 function. To our knowledge, this is the first report to demonstrate a molecular and functional link between Rac1 and Rab7.
Conclusions: Our data indicate that active Rac1 recruits Armus to locally inactivate Rab7 and facilitate E-cadherin degradation in lysosomes. Thus, the integration of Rac1 and Rab7 activities by Armus provides an important regulatory node for E-cadherin turnover and stability of cell-cell contacts.