A population of estrogen receptor-α (ERα) proteins, located at the plasma membrane, is postulated to mediate the rapid, nongenomic responses of GH3/B6/F10 pituitary cells to estrogen. To demonstrate the presence of ERα at the plasma membrane and to distinguish this receptor population from that in the nucleus, GH3/B6/F10 cells were first prepared in 2% paraformaldehyde/0.1% glutaraldehyde in PBS (P/G) without detergent, then exposed to one of several antibodies (Abs) raised against nuclear ERα. Ab binding was visualized as a fluorescent/chromagenic reaction product catalyzed by avidin-biotin-complexed alkaline phosphatase. With P/G fixation, Abs could only access antigens at the cell surface, as evidenced by the inability of 70K mol wt dextrans to permeate cells and the absence of intracellular staining by Abs to cytoplasmic or nuclear antigens. ERα Abs generated membrane, but not nuclear, staining in P/G-fixed cells; nuclear receptor labeling could only be detected in detergent-treated cells. Specificity of staining for ERα was confirmed by three approaches: first, treatment with an antisense oligodeoxynucleotide to nuclear ERα mRNA reduced immunolabeling of both membrane and nuclear ERα; second, labeling by two Abs raised against different ERα oligopeptides was neutralized by competing peptide; third, six Abs (ER21, H226, R4, H222, MC20, and C542) that recognize unique epitopes on rodent ERα produced immunolabeling, but neither primate-specific ERα Ab nor Ab to ERβ caused staining. In addition to demonstrating the plasma membrane ERα in GH3/B6/F10 cells, this method should be applicable to other cell types that exhibit nongenomic responses to estrogen or other steroid hormones.
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