The mouse γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) transporter mGAT1 was expressed in neuroblastoma 2a cells. 19 mGAT1 designs incorporating fluorescent proteins were functionally characterized by [3H]GABA uptake in assays that responded to several experimental variables, including the mutations and pharmacological manipulation of the cytoskeleton. Oligomerization and subsequent trafficking of mGAT1 were studied in several subcellular regions of live cells using localized fluorescence, acceptor photobleach Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), and pixel-by-pixel analysis of normalized FRET (NFRET) images. Nine constructs were functionally indistinguishable from wild-type mGAT1 and provided information about normal mGAT1 assembly and trafficking. The remainder had compromised [3H]GABA uptake due to observable oligomerization and/or trafficking deficits; the data help to determine regions of mGAT1 sequence involved in these processes. Acceptor photobleach FRET detected mGAT1 oligomerization, but richer information was obtained from analyzing the distribution of all-pixel NFRET amplitudes. We also analyzed such distributions restricted to cellular subregions. Distributions were fit to either two or three Gaussian components. Two of the components, present for all mGAT1 constructs that oligomerized, may represent dimers and high-order oligomers (probably tetramers), respectively. Only wild-type functioning constructs displayed three components; the additional component apparently had the highest mean NFRET amplitude. Near the cell periphery, wild-type functioning constructs displayed the highest NFRET. In this subregion, the highest NFRET component represented ∼30% of all pixels, similar to the percentage of mGAT1 from the acutely recycling pool resident in the plasma membrane in the basal state. Blocking the mGAT1 C terminus postsynaptic density 95/discs large/zona occludens 1 (PDZ)-interacting domain abolished the highest amplitude component from the NFRET distributions. Disrupting the actin cytoskeleton in cells expressing wild-type functioning transporters moved the highest amplitude component from the cell periphery to perinuclear regions. Thus, pixel-by-pixel NFRET analysis resolved three distinct forms of GAT1: dimers, high-order oligomers, and transporters associated via PDZ-mediated interactions with the actin cytoskeleton and/or with the exocyst.
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