We have investigated the lysosomal compartment of Xenopus oocytes to determine the possible role of this organelle in the endocytic pathway of the yolk protein precursor, vitellogenin. Oocytes have lysosome-like organelles of unusual enzymatic composition at all stages of their development, and the amount of hydrolase activity increases steadily throughout oogenesis. These unusual lysosomes appear to be located primarily in a peripheral zone of oocyte cytoplasm. At least two distinct populations of lysosomal organelles can be identified after sucrose density gradient fractionation of vitellogenic oocytes. Most enzyme activity resides in a compartment of large size and high density that appears to be a subpopulation of yolk platelets that are less dense than most platelets within the cell. The appearance of this high density peak of lysosomal enzyme activity coincides with the time of onset of vitellogenin endocytosis during oocyte development. The data suggest that endocytic vesicles that contain vitellogenin fuse with modified lysosomes shortly after their internalization by the oocyte. Pulse-chase experiments with radiolabeled vitellogenin suggest that the ligand passes through the low density platelet compartment en route to the heavy platelets. The accumulation of yolk proteins apparently results from a failure of these molecules to undergo complete digestion after their entry into an unusual lysosomal compartment. The yolk platelets that these proteins finally enter for prolonged storage appear to be a postlysosomal organelle.

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