We used high-resolution immunocytochemistry on ultrathin frozen sections labeled with colloidal gold to study the subcellular distribution of the asialoglycoprotein receptor in rat liver. The receptor was localized along the entire hepatocyte plasma membrane, including the bile capillary membrane, but was scarce intracellularly. Sinusoidal lining (Kupffer) cells and blood cells showed no immunoreactivity. In liver cells of rats injected with 1 to 100 micrograms of asialoorosomucoid (ASOR) 2-15 min before tissue fixation, endocytotic internalization of receptors at the blood front was conspicuous. At all times in this interval, receptor was present in approximately 100-nm vesicles and larger vacuoles adjacent to the sinusoidal plasma membrane. No other significant intracellular receptor was noted during the 15-min exposure to ASOR; in particular, lysosomes and Golgi complex were not labeled. Our observations, in combination with data from the literature which demonstrate that, under these conditions, the ligand is transferred further to the Golgi complex-lysosome region, suggest that the receptor and ligand are dissociated in the vicinity of the plasma membrane, after which the receptor rapidly returns to the cell surface.

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