We used electron microscopy, acid hydrolase cytochemistry, and biochemistry to analyze the uptake and metabolism of colloidal gold- and [3H]cholesteryl linoleate-labeled human low density lipoprotein (LDL) by cultured rat granulosa cells. The initial interaction of gold-LDL conjugates with granulosa cells occurred at binding sites diffusely distributed over the plasma membrane. After incubation with ligand in the cold, 99.9% of the conjugates were at the cell surface but less than 4% lay over coated pits. Uptake was specific since it was decreased 93-95% by excess unconjugated LDL and heparin, but only 34-38% by excess unconjugated human high density lipoprotein. LDL uptake was related to granulosa cell differentiation; well-luteinized cells bound 2-3 times as much gold-LDL as did poorly luteinized cells. Ligand internalization was initiated by warming and involved coated pits, coated vesicles, pale multivesicular bodies (MVBs), dense MVBs, and lysosomes. A key event in this process was the translocation of gold-LDL conjugates from the cell periphery to the Golgi zone. This step was carried out by the pale MVB, a prelysosomal compartment that behaves like an endosome. Granulosa cells exposed to LDL labeled with gold and [3H]cholesteryl linoleate converted [3H]sterol to [3H]progestin in a time-dependent manner. This conversion was paralleled by increased gold-labeling of lysosomes and blocked by chloroquine, an inhibitor of lysosomal activity. In brief, granulosa cells deliver LDL to lysosomes by a receptor-mediated mechanism for the hydrolysis of cholesteryl esters. The resulting cholesterol is, in turn, transferred to other cellular compartments, where conversion to steroid occurs. These events comprise the pathway used by steroid-secreting cells to obtain the LDL-cholesterol vital for steroidogenesis.

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