Polyamine transport is an active process which contributes to the regulation and maintenance of intracellular polyamine pools. Although the biochemical properties of polyamine transport in mammalian cells have been extensively studied, attempts to isolate and characterize the actual protein(s) have met with limited success. As one approach, photoaffinity labelling of cell surface proteins using a polyamine-conjugated photoprobe may lead to the identification of polyamine-binding proteins (pbps) associated with the transport apparatus and/or other regulatory responses. In a previous study [Felschow, MacDiarmid, Bardos, Wu, Woster and Porter (1995) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 28705-28711], we demonstrated that the photoprobes N4-ASA-spermidine and N1-ASA-norspermine [where the ASA (azidosalicylamidoethyl) group represents the photoreactive moiety] competed effectively with polyamines for transport and selectively labelled two major pbps at 118 and 50 kDa on the surface of murine and human leukaemia cells. In the present study, a new and more potent polyamine-conjugated photoprobe, N1-ASA-spermine, has been synthesized and used to develop a method based on detergent lysis for identifying putative cell-surface pbps on solid-tumour cell types. Transport kinetic assays showed that the new photoprobe competed with spermidine uptake with an apparent Ki of 1 μM, a value 20-50-fold lower than those of earlier probes. In L1210 cells, the new probe identified pbp50 and pbp118 thus reaffirming their identity as pbps. Two new bands were also detected. In A549 human lung adenocarcinoma cells, N1-ASA-spermine identified pbps at 39, 62, 73 and 130 kDa, the latter believed to be a size variant of pbp118. The presence of pbp130/118 in two very different cell types suggests the generality of the protein among mammalian cell types as well as its importance for further study. The high affinity of the photoprobe for the polyamine-transport system strongly suggests that at least some of the identified pbps may be associated with that function.

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