We used a conjugate of transferrin and horseradish peroxidase (Tf/HRP) to label the intracellular transferrin receptor route in the human hepatoma cell line HepG2. The recycling kinetics of [125I]Tf/HRP were similar to those of unmodified [125I]Tf, implying identical routes for both ligands. 3,3'Diaminobenzidine (DAB)-cytochemistry was performed on post-nuclear supernatants of homogenates of cells which were incubated with both Tf/HRP and [125I]Tf, and caused two different effects: (a) the equilibrium density of [125I]Tf containing microsomes in a Percoll density gradient was increased, and (b) the amount of immunoprecipitable [125I]Tf from density-shifted lysed microsomes was only 20% of that of nonDAB treated microsomes. The whole biosynthetic route of alpha 1-antitrypsin (AT), a typical secretory glycoprotein in HepG2 cells, was labeled during a 60-min incubation with [35S]methionine. DAB cytochemistry was performed on post-nuclear supernatants of homogenates of cells which were also incubated with Tf/HRP. DAB cytochemistry caused approximately 40% of microsome-associated "complex" glycosylated [35S]alpha 1-antitrypsin ([35S]c-AT) to shift in a Percoll density gradient. Only part of the density shifted [35S]c-AT could be recovered by immunoprecipitation. A maximum effect was measured already after 10 min of Tf/HRP uptake. The density distribution of the "high mannose" glycosylated form of 35S-alpha 1-anti-trypsin [( 35S]hm-AT) was not affected by Tf/HRP. If in addition to Tf/HRP also an excess of non-conjugated transferrin was present in the medium, [35S]c-AT was not accessible for Tf/HRP, showing the involvement of the transferrin receptor (TfR) in the process. Furthermore, we show that if Tf/HRP and [35S]c-AT were located in different vesicles, the density distribution of [35S]c-AT was not affected by DAB-cytochemistry. Pulse-labeling with [35S]methionine was used to show that [35S]c-AT became accessible to endocytosed Tf/HRP minutes after acquirement of the complex configuration. A common intracellular localization of endocytosed Tf/HRP and secretory protein could be confirmed by immuno-electron microscopy: cryosections labeled with anti-albumin (protein A-colloidal gold) as well as DAB reaction product showed double-labeling in the trans-Golgi reticulum.

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