The maintenance of apical and basolateral membrane domains with distinct protein and lipid compositions is necessary for the proper function of polarized epithelial cells. Delivery of cargo to the basolateral surface is thought to be mediated by the interaction of cytoplasmically disposed sorting signals with sorting receptors, whereas apically destined cargoes are sorted via mechanisms dependent on cytoplasmic, glycan-mediated, or lipid-interacting sorting signals. Apical and basolateral cargo are delivered to the surface in discrete tubular and vesicular carriers that bud from the trans-Golgi network (TGN). While it has long been thought that the TGN is the primary compartment in which apical and basolateral cargoes are segregated, recent studies suggest that sorting may begin earlier along the biosynthetic pathway. Moreover, rather than being delivered directly from the TGN to the cell surface, at least a subset of biosynthetic cargo appears to transit recycling endosomes en route to the plasma membrane. The implications and limitations of these challenges to the conventional model for how proteins are sorted and trafficked along the biosynthetic pathway are discussed.
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