In the preceding paper (Yamashiro, D. J., and F. R. Maxfield. 1987. J. Cell Biol. 105:2713-2721), we have shown that there is rapid acidification of endosomal compartments to pH 6.3 by 3 min in wild-type Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. In contrast, early acidification of endosomes is markedly reduced in the CHO mutants, DTF 1-5-4 and DTF 1-5-1. Since these CHO mutants are pleiotropically defective in endocytosis (Robbins, A. R., S. S. Peng, and J. L. Marshall. 1983. J. Cell Biol. 96:1064-1071; Robbins, A. R., C. Oliver, J. L. Bateman, S. S. Krag, C. J. Galloway, and I. Mellman. 1984. J. Cell Biol. 99:1296-1308), our results are consistent with a requirement for proper acidification of early endocytic compartments in many pH-regulated endocytic processes. In this paper, by measuring the pH of morphologically distinct endosomes using fluorescence microscopy and digital image analysis, we have determined in which of the endocytic compartments the defective acidification occurs. We found that the acidification of both the para-Golgi recycling endosomes and lysosomes was normal in the CHO mutants DTG 1-5-4 and DTF 1-5-1. The mean pH of large endosomes containing either fluorescein-labeled alpha 2-macroglobulin or fluorescein-isothiocyanate dextran was only slightly less acidic in the mutant cells than in wild-type cells. However, when we examined the pH of individual large (150-250 nm) endosomes, we found that there was an increased number of endosomes with a pH greater than 6.5 in the CHO mutants when compared with wild-type cells. Heterogeneity in the acidification of large endosomes was also seen in DTF 1-5-1 by a combined null point pH method and digital image analysis technique. In addition, both CHO mutants showed a marked decrease in the acidification of the earliest endosomal compartment, a diffusely fluorescent compartment comprised of small vesicles and tubules. We suggest that the defect in endosome acidification is most pronounced in the early, small vesicular, and tubular endosomes and that this defect partially carries over to the large endosomes that are involved in the sorting and processing of ligands. The proper step-wise acidification of the different endosomes along the endocytic pathway may have an important role in the regulation of endocytic processes.

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