Acidification of secretory and endocytic organelles is required for proper receptor recycling, membrane traffic, protein degradation, and solute transport. Proton-pumping vacuolar H+ ATPases (V-ATPases) are responsible for this luminal acidification, which increases progressively as secretory and endocytic vesicles mature. An increasing density of V-ATPase complexes is thought to account for the gradual decrease in pH, but available reagents have not been sufficiently sensitive or specific to test this hypothesis. We introduce a new probe to localize and quantify V-ATPases. The probe is derived from SidK, a Legionella pneumophila effector protein that binds to the V-ATPase A subunit. We generated plasmids encoding fluorescent chimeras of SidK1-278, and labeled recombinant SidK1-278 with Alexa Fluor 568 to visualize and quantify V-ATPases with high specificity in live and fixed cells, respectively. We show that V-ATPases are acquired progressively during phagosome maturation, that they distribute in discrete membrane subdomains, and that their density in lysosomes depends on their subcellular localization.

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