Induction of apically mistrafficked epiregulin disrupts epithelial polarity via aberrant EGFR signaling

J Cell Sci. 2021 Sep 15;134(18):jcs255927. doi: 10.1242/jcs.255927. Epub 2021 Sep 17.


In polarized MDCK cells, disruption of the tyrosine-based YXXΦ basolateral trafficking motif (Y156A) in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) ligand epiregulin (EREG), results in its apical mistrafficking and transformation in vivo. However, the mechanisms underlying these dramatic effects are unknown. Using a doxycycline-inducible system in 3D Matrigel cultures, we now show that induction of Y156A EREG in fully formed MDCK cysts results in direct and complete delivery of mutant EREG to the apical cell surface. Within 3 days of induction, ectopic lumens were detected in mutant, but not wild-type, EREG-expressing cysts. Of note, these structures resembled histological features found in subcutaneous xenografts of mutant EREG-expressing MDCK cells. These ectopic lumens formed de novo rather than budding from the central lumen and depended on metalloprotease-mediated cleavage of EREG and subsequent EGFR activity. Moreover, the most frequent EREG mutation in human cancer (R147stop) resulted in its apical mistrafficking in engineered MDCK cells. Thus, induction of EREG apical mistrafficking is sufficient to disrupt selective aspects of polarity of a preformed polarized epithelium. This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

Keywords: 3D Matrigel culture; EGFR; EREG; Epidermal growth factor receptor; Epiregulin; Epithelial polarity; Epithelial transformation; Protein trafficking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Epiregulin / genetics
  • Epiregulin / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors* / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Phosphorylation
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Epiregulin
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors