After it interacts with a specific receptor on the cell surface, insulin is internalized in its target cell by an adsorptive endocytotic process and eventually degraded in lysosomes. It was also recently shown that the initial surface interaction between the hormone and its receptor is followed by an internalization of the receptor, which later is recycled back to the cell surface. In the present study the insulin receptor was tagged with a 125I-photoreactive insulin analogue that can be covalently coupled to the insulin receptor by ultraviolet irradiation. Using this tool we could trace by quantitative electron microscope autoradiography the intracellular pathway followed by this labeled receptor. The quantitative analysis of the intracellular distribution of the labeled material as a function of incubation time at 37 degrees C supports the following sequence of events: association first with clear vesicles, second with multivesicular bodies, third with dense bodies, and fourth, a return to the cell surface via clear vesicles. This insulin receptor recycling process is inhibited by monensin but unaffected by cycloheximide.

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