In guinea pig exocrine pancreatic cells intracisternal granules (ICGs) occur at a low frequency within the lumen of the RER. By starving and refeeding guinea pigs or injecting them in CoCl2 solution, the number of these granules is greatly increased. We show here that ICGs contain the complete set of secreted pancreatic digestive enzymes and proenzymes. Two other soluble proteins in the lumen of the RER, GRP 78/BiP and protein disulphide isomerase (PDI), are specifically excluded from ICGs. The formation of ICGs, which occurs without acidification of the RER cisternae, is therefore a sorting event involving the cocondensation of a complete set of secretory enzymes and proenzymes, which for brevity we refer to collectively as the zymogens. With the exception of approximately 50% of the RNase, the zymogens in ICGs are covalently cross-linked by intermolecular disulphide bonds. The synthesis of all three resident ER cisternal proteins--PDI, GRP 78/BiP, and GRP 94--with the carboxy-terminal sequence KDEL, is induced in response to the accumulation of massive amounts of misfolded secretory protein in the ICGs in the lumen of the RER. After injection of rats with large doses of parachlorophenylalanine-methylester, crystals form in the lumen of the RER. We show that these crystals appear to be a lattice of amylase with the other zymogens incorporated between the layers. Both GRP 78/BiP and PDI are excluded from these crystals. The formation of these amylase crystals within the RER and the inclusion of other zymogens is, therefore, also a sorting event. These data establish that in exocrine pancreatic cells zymogens can cocondense in the RER into either amorphous aggregates or crystals that exclude other soluble RER proteins. This demonstrates that cocondensation is a mechanism capable of sorting zymogens within the secretory pathway.

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