The mechanism(s) by which Rab GTPases are specifically recruited to distinct intracellular membranes remains elusive. Here we used Rab27a localisation onto melanosomes as a model to investigate Rab targeting. We identified the α1 subunit of Na+,K+-ATPase (ATP1a1) as a novel Rab27a interacting protein in melanocytes and showed that this interaction is direct with the intracellular M4M5 loop of ATP1a1 and independent of nucleotide bound status of the Rab. Knockdown studies in melanocytes revealed that ATP1a1 plays an essential role in Rab27a-dependent melanosome transport. Specifically, expression of ATP1a1, like the Rab27a GDP/GTP exchange factor (Rab3GEP), is essential for targeting and activation of Rab27a to melanosomes. Finally, we showed that the ability of Rab27a mutants to target to melanosomes correlates with the efficiency of their interaction with ATP1a1. Altogether these studies point to a new role for ATP1a1 as a regulator of Rab27a targeting and activation.
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