The intracellular pathway of cartilage proteoglycan biosynthesis was investigated in isolated chondrocytes using a protein A-gold electron microscopy immunolocalization procedure. Proteoglycans contain a protein core to which chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate chains and oligosaccharides are added in posttranslational processing. Specific antibodies have been used in this study to determine separately the distribution of the protein core and chondroitin sulfate components. In normal chondrocytes, proteoglycan protein core was readily localized only in smooth-membraned vesicles which co-labeled with ricin, indicating them to be galactose-rich medial/trans-Golgi cisternae, whereas there was only a low level of labeling in the rough endoplasmic reticulum. Chondroitin sulfate was also localized in medial/trans-Golgi cisternae of control chondrocytes but was not detected in other cellular compartments. In cells treated with monensin (up to 1.0 microM), which strongly inhibits proteoglycan secretion (Burditt, L.J., A. Ratcliffe, P. R. Fryer, and T. Hardingham, 1985, Biochim. Biophys. Acta., 844:247-255), there was greatly increased intracellular localization of proteoglycan protein core in both ricin-positive vesicles, and in ricin-negative vesicles (derived from cis-Golgi stacks) and in the distended rough endoplasmic reticulum. Chondroitin sulfate also increased in abundance after monensin treatment, but continued to be localized only in ricin-positive vesicles. The results suggested that the synthesis of chondroitin sulfate on proteoglycan only occurs in medial/trans-Golgi cisternae as a late event in proteoglycan biosynthesis. This also suggests that glycosaminoglycan synthesis on proteoglycans takes place in a compartment in common with events in the biosynthesis of both O-linked and N-linked oligosaccharides on other secretory glycoproteins.

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