Tetraspanins as Regulators of Protein Trafficking

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Small transmembrane proteins of the tetraspanin superfamily are believed to function as the main structural blocks of specialized membrane microdomains (referred to as tetraspanin-enriched microdomains, TERM or TEM). Through a multitude of homotypic and heterotypic interactions, tetraspanins regulate lateral clustering and, consequently, signalling involving adhesion and growth factor receptors as well as costimulatory proteins. The presence of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) I and MHCII molecules in TERM led to suggestion of tetraspanins' involvement in antigen presentation. In addition, certain tetraspanins function as viral co-receptors and may be important for viral egress from infected cells. It has recently become apparent that in addition to their purely structural function as organizers of TERM, tetraspanins also regulate various aspects of trafficking and biosynthetic processing of associated receptors. Here, we review recent studies, which specifically focus on this issue.

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