The mode of transport of ceruloplasmin (CP) into the liver was investigated in fractionated liver cell suspensions. Incubation of 125I-CP at 4 degrees C with these different fractions led to its binding only to endothelial cells but not Kupffer cells and hepatocytes. Incubation at 37 degrees C led to rapid uptake of 125I-CP by endothelium, but cell-associated radioactivity declined after 15 min, which suggests the release of the labeled substance. Internalization was confirmed by fractionation of surface-bound and internalized ligand. The released label now acquired binding potential for fresh target hepatocytes, and the binding was inhibitable with asialoceruloplasmin but not native CP. This suggested that the released molecule was modified in the endothelium by desialation. Desialation was confirmed by incubation of endothelium with double-labeled CP (3H label on sialic acid and 125I on the protein part). We conclude that in the liver, CP is first recognized and taken up by endothelial cells that are endowed with appropriate surface receptors for the protein. Endothelium then modifies the molecule by desialation to expose the penultimate galactosyl residues. The modified molecule is then released, recognized, and taken up by hepatocytes through their membrane galactosyl-recognition system. These findings are consistent with the role of endothelium as an active mediator of molecular transport between blood and tissue, and further assign a biological role for the galactosyl-recognition system in hepatocytes.

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