The interaction of homologous and heterologous albumin-gold complex (Alb-Au) with capillary endothelium was investigated in the mouse lung, heart, and diaphragm. Perfusion of the tracer in situ for from 3 to 35 min was followed by washing with phosphate-buffered saline, fixation by perfusion, and processing for electron microscopy. From the earliest time examined, one and sometimes two rows of densely packed particles bound to some restricted plasma membrane microdomains that appeared as uncoated pits, and to plasmalemmal vesicles open on the luminal front. Morphometric analysis, using various albumin-gold concentrations, showed that the binding is saturable at a very low concentration of the ligand and short exposure. After 5 min, tracer-carrying vesicles appeared on the abluminal front, discharging their content into the subendothelial space. As a function of tracer concentration 1-10% of plasmalemmal vesicles contained Alb-Au particles in fluid phase; from 5 min on, multivesicular bodies were labeled by the tracer. Plasma membrane, coated pits, and coated vesicles were not significantly marked at any time interval. Heparin or high ionic strength did not displace the bound Alb-Au from vesicle membrane. No binding was obtained when Alb-Au was competed in situ with albumin or was injected in vivo. Gold complexes with fibrinogen, fibronectin, glucose oxidase, or polyethyleneglycol did not give a labeling comparable to that of albumin. These results suggest that on the capillary endothelia examined, the Alb-Au is adsorbed on specific binding sites restricted to uncoated pits and plasmalemmal vesicles. The tracer is transported in transcytotic vesicles across endothelium by receptor-mediated transcytosis, and to a lesser extent is taken up by pinocytotic vesicles. The existence of albumin receptors on these continuous capillary endothelia may provide a specific mechanism for the transport of albumin and other molecules carried by this protein.

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