Intracellular degradation of exogenous (serum) proteins provides a source of amino acids for cellular protein synthesis. Pinocytosis serves as the mechanism for delivering exogenous protein to the lysosomes, the major site of intracellular degradation of exogenous protein. To determine whether the availability of extracellular free amino acids altered pinocytic function, we incubated monolayers of pulmonary alveolar macrophages with the fluid-phase marker, [14C]sucrose, and we dissected the pinocytic process by kinetic analysis. Additionally, intracellular degradation of endogenous and exogenous protein was monitored by measuring phenylalanine released from the cell monolayers in the presence of cycloheximide. Results revealed that in response to a subphysiological level of essential amino acids or to amino acid deprivation, (a) the rate of fluid-phase pinocytosis increased in such a manner as to preferentially increase both delivery to and size of an intracellular compartment believed to be the lysosomes, (b) the degradation of exogenously supplied albumin increased, and (c) the fraction of phenylalanine derived from degradation of exogenous albumin and reutilized for de novo protein synthesis increased. Thus, modulation of the pinosome-lysosome pathway may represent a homeostatic mechanism sensitive to the availability of extracellular free amino acids.

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