Receptor-mediated endocytosis and intracellular routing of native ricin, and of ricin conjugated to colloidal gold (Ri-Au) and to horseradish peroxidase (Ri-HRP), have been studied in cultured MCF-7 and Vero cells by electron microscopical techniques including serial section analysis. Both native ricin, as demonstrated by immunoperoxidase cytochemistry, and the ricin conjugates were internalized via a common coated pit-coated vesicle pathway to reach vacuolar and tubulo-vesicular portions of the endosomal system. In addition, native ricin and a purified monovalent fraction of Ri-HRP reached distinct Golgi cisterns, whereas Ri-Au and polyvalent Ri-HRP did not. The results delineate intracellular routing of native ricin and compare it with the routing of different ricin conjugates. Moreover, our study shows that conjugates of a particular ligand (ricin) and various probes (e.g., gold and peroxidase), may be handled differently by cells. Sorting apparently takes place in the endosomal system, allowing some but not other molecules to reach Golgi elements. This sorting seems to depend on the valency of the ricin conjugate.

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