Mast cells play a crucial role at the early stages of immune response against bacteria and parasites where their functionality is based on their capability of releasing highly bioactive compounds, among them TNF. Mast cells are considered the only cells storing preformed TNF, which allows for the immediate release of this cytokine upon contact with pathogens. We approached the question of mechanisms and amino acid motifs directing newly synthesized TNF for storage in cytoplasmic granules by analyzing the trafficking of a series of TNF-enhanced GFP fusion proteins in human mast cell lines HMC-1 and LAD2. Protein covering the full TNF sequence was successfully sorted into secretory granules in a process involving transient exposure on the outer membrane and re-endocytosis. In human cells, contrary to results previously obtained in a rodent model, TNF seems not to be glycosylated and, thus, trafficking is carbohydrate independent. In an effort to localize the amino acid motif responsible for granule targeting, we constructed additional fusion proteins and analyzed their trafficking, concluding that granule-targeting sequences are localized in the mature chain of TNF and that the cytoplasmic tail is expendable for endocytotic sorting of this cytokine, thus excluding direct interactions with intracellular adaptor proteins.
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