The intracellular movement of cell surface transferrin receptor (TfR) after internalization was studied in K562 cultured human erythroleukemia cells. The sialic acid residues of the TfR glycoprotein were used to monitor transport to the Golgi complex, the site of sialyltransferases. Surface-labeled cells were treated with neuraminidase, and readdition of sialic acid residues, monitored by isoelectric focusing of immunoprecipitated TfR, was used to assess the movement of receptor to sialyltransferase-containing compartments. Asialo-TfR was resialylated by the cells with a half-time of 2-3 h. Resialylation occurred in an intracellular organelle, since it was inhibited by treatments that allow internalization of surface components but block transfer out of the endosomal compartment. Moreover, roughly half of the resialylated molecules were cleaved when cells were retreated with neuraminidase after culturing, indicating that this fraction of the molecules had returned to the cell surface. These results suggest that TfR is transported from the cell surface to the Golgi complex, the intracellular site of sialyltransferases, and then returns to the cell surface. This pathway, which has not been previously described for a cell surface receptor, may be different from the route followed by TfR in iron uptake, since reported rates of transferrin uptake and release are significantly more rapid than the resialylation of asialo-TfR.

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