Glutamate transporters in the central nervous system remove glutamate released from neurons to terminate the signal. These transporters localize to astrocyte process tips approaching neuronal synapses. The mechanisms underlying the localization of glutamate transporters to these processes, however, are not known. In this study, we demonstrate that the trimeric transmembrane transporter domain fragment of glutamate transporters, lacking both N- and C-terminal cytoplasmic regions, localized to filopodia tips. This is a common property of trimeric transporters including a neutral amino acid transporter ASCT1. Astrocyte specific proteins are not required for the filopodia tip localization. An extracellular loop at the centre of the 4th transmembrane helices, unique for metazoans, is required for the localization. Moreover, a C186S mutation at the 4th transmembrane region of EAAT1, found in episodic ataxia patients, significantly decreased its process tip localization. The transmembrane transporter domain fragments of glutamate transporters also localized to astrocyte process tips in cultured hippocampal slice. These results indicate that the transmembrane transporter domain of glutamate transporters have an additional function as a sorting signal to process tips.
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