Membrane microdomains or lipid/membrane rafts are distinct areas on the plasma membranes, where a specific subset of lipids (e.g. cholesterol, sphingolipids) and proteins (e.g. glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored proteins, growth factor receptor/kinases) are getting together and functioning for several aspects of cellular functions. Our recent investigation has revealed that fertilization of African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, requires cholesterol-dependent nature of egg membrane microdomains. Moreover, fertilization of Xenopus eggs involves proteolytic cleavage of the extracellular part and subsequent phosphorylation of a cytoplasmic tyrosine residue of uroplakin III, an egg membrane microdomain-associated protein. Protease activity toward uroplakin III seems to be derived from fertilizing sperm, while phosphorylation of uroplakin III seems to be catalyzed by the egg tyrosine kinase Src, whose activation is required for cytoplasmic rearrangement of fertilized eggs; so-called ‘egg activation’. Therefore, it is assumed that uroplakin III serves an integral part of signal transduction in fertilization of Xenopus. Our more recent study on human cancer cells has revealed that a similar but distinct scheme of signal transduction operates in anti-apoptotic growth of cells. Namely, in human bladder carcinoma cells, cooperation of uroplakin III and Src, both of which localize to the membrane microdomains, allows cells to escape from apoptotic cell death and proliferate under culture conditions deprived of serum. In this review, I briefly introduce about biology of fertilization and cancer, and then present and discuss our experimental data on general importance and specific features of membrane microdomains in Xenopus fertilization and anti-apoptosis in human bladder carcinoma cells.
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