Rac1, a member of the Rho family of small GTP-binding proteins, is involved in the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton via activation of lamellipodia and membrane ruffle formation. RhoGDI (Rho-family-specific GDP-dissociation inhibitor) forms a complex with Rho proteins in the cytosol of mammalian cells. It not only regulates guanine nucleotide binding to Rho proteins, but may also function as a molecular shuttle to carry Rho proteins from an inactive cytosolic pool to the membrane for activation. These studies tested if RhoGDI is necessary for the translocation of Rac1 from the cytosol to the plasma membrane for the formation of membrane ruffles. We describe a novel mutant of Rac1, R66E (Arg66→Glu), that fails to bind RhoGDI. This RhoGDI-binding-defective mutation is combined with a Rac1-activating mutation G12V, resulting in a double-mutant [Rac1(G12V/R66E)] that fails to interact with RhoGDI in COS-7 cells, but remains constitutively activated. This double mutant stimulates membrane ruffling to a similar extent as that observed after epidermal growth factor treatment of non-transfected cells. To confirm that Rac1 can signal ruffle formation in the absence of interaction with RhoGDI, Rac1(G12V) was overexpressed in cultured mesangial cells derived from a RhoGDI knockout mouse. Rac1-mediated membrane ruffling was indistinguishable between the RhoGDI(−/−) and RhoGDI(+/+) cell lines. In both the COS-7 and cultured mesangial cells, Rac1(G12V) and Rac1(G12V/R66E) co-localize with membrane ruffles. These findings suggest that interaction with RhoGDI is not essential in the mechanism by which Rac1 translocates to the plasma membrane to stimulate ruffle formation.

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