Two small GTPase Rabs, Rab32 and Rab38, have recently been proposed to regulate trafficking of melanogenic enzymes to melanosomes in mammalian epidermal melanocytes; however, the exact molecular mechanism of Rab32/38-mediated transport of melanogenic enzymes has never been clarified, because no Rab32/38-specific effector has ever been identified. In this study, we screened for a Rab32/38-specific effector by a yeast two-hybrid assay using a guanosine triphosphate (GTP)-locked Rab32/38 as bait and found that VPS9-ankyrin-repeat protein (Varp)/Ankrd27, characterized previously as a guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) for Rab21, functions as a specific Rab32/38-binding protein in mouse melanocyte cell line melan-a. Deletion analysis showed that the first ankyrin-repeat (ANKR1) domain functions as a GTP-dependent Rab32/38-binding domain, but that the N-terminal VPS9 domain (i.e., Rab21-GEF domain) does not. Small interfering RNA-mediated knockdown of endogenous Varp in melan-a cells caused a dramatic reduction in Tyrp1 (tyrosinase-related protein 1) signals from melanosomes but did not cause any reduction in Pmel17 signals. Furthermore, expression of the ANKR1 domain in melan-a cells also caused a dramatic reduction of Tyrp1 signals, whereas the VPS9 domain had no effect. Based on these findings, we propose that Varp functions as the Rab32/38 effector that controls trafficking of Tyrp1 in melanocytes.
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