Delineation of apical and basolateral membrane domains is a critical step in the epithelialization of the outer layer of cells in the embryo. We have examined the initiation of polarized membrane traffic in Xenopus and show that membrane traffic is not polarized in oocytes but polarized membrane domains appear at first cleavage. The following proteins encoded by injected RNA transcripts were used as markers to monitor membrane traffic: (a) VSV G, a transmembrane glycoprotein preferentially inserted into the basolateral surface of polarized epithelial cells; (b) GThy-1, a fusion protein of VSV G and Thy-1 that is localized to the apical domains of polarized epithelial cells; and (c) prolactin, a peptide hormone that is not polarly secreted. In immature oocytes, there is no polarity in the expression of VSV G or GThy-1, as shown by the constitutive expression of both proteins at the surface in the animal and vegetal hemispheres. At meiotic maturation, membrane traffic to the surface is blocked; the plasma membrane no longer accepts the vesicles synthesized by the oocyte (Leaf, D. L., S. J. Roberts, J. C. Gerhart, and H.-P. Moore. 1990. Dev. Biol. 141:1-12). When RNA transcripts are injected after fertilization, VSV G is expressed only in the internal cleavage membranes (basolateral orientation) and is excluded from the outer surface (apical orientation, original oocyte membrane). In contrast, GThy-1 and prolactin, when expressed in embryos, are inserted or released at both the outer membrane derived from the oocyte and the inner cleavage membranes. Furthermore, not all of the cleavage membrane comes from an embryonic pool of vesicles--some of the cleavage membrane comes from vesicles synthesized during oogenesis. Using prolactin as a marker, we found that a subset of vesicles synthesized during oogenesis was only released after fertilization. However, while embryonic prolactin was secreted from both apical and basolateral surfaces, the secretion of oogenic prolactin was polarized. Oogenic prolactin was secreted only into the blastocoel (from the cleavage membrane), none could be detected in the external medium (from the original oocyte membrane). These results provide the first direct evidence that the oocyte synthesizes a cache of vesicles for specific recruitment to the embryonic cleavage membranes which are polarized beginning with the first cleavage division.

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