Rab3A and Rab3B are highly homologous monomeric GTPases that are putative regulators of exocytosis in those tissues in which they are expressed. We have characterized and directly compared the targeting and functional properties of these isoforms in PC12 neuroendocrine cells. Rab3A and Rab3B both targeted to norepinephrine (NE)-containing large dense core vesicles (LDCVs) when stably expressed in PC12 cells, as determined by immunofluorescence and membrane fractionation. Both Rab3 isoforms also bound to recombinant rabphilin-3A in a GTP-dependent manner. The membrane association of rabphilin-3A was modestly enhanced in Rab3B-expressing PC12 cells relative to Rab3A-overexpressing cells. In addition, overexpression of Rab3A modestly inhibited Ca2+-evoked NE release, whereas Rab3B and a GTP binding mutant (Rab3B N135I) markedly stimulated the efficiency of [3H]NE secretion by PC12 cells (i.e. secretion normalized to total cell radioactivity). Expression of Rab3B and Rab3B N135I increased not only the efficiency of NE secretion but also the accumulation of [3H]NE into LDCVs (i.e. the secretory cargo available for secretion). Neither of these effects was attributable to changes in the numbers of LDCVs nor the docking of LDCVs at the plasma membrane. Our results indicate that Rab3A and Rab3B have similar membrane targeting properties and are capable of interacting with the same putative downstream effector; i.e. rabphilin-3A. However, these isoforms are functionally distinct monomeric GTPases with Rab3B stimulating a late step in Ca2+-evoked secretion when expressed in PC12 cells.
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