In this paper, we have characterized the apical and basolateral endocytic pathways of epithelial MDCK cells grown on filters. The three-dimensional organization of the endocytic compartments was analyzed by confocal microscopy after internalization of a fluorescent fluid-phase marker from either side of the cell layer. After 5 min of internalization, distinct sets of apical and basolateral early endosomes were observed lining the plasma membrane domain from which internalization had occurred. At later time points, the apical and the basolateral endocytic pathways were shown to converge in the perinuclear region. Mixing of two different fluorescent markers could be detected after their simultaneous internalization from opposite sides of the cell layer. The extent of the meeting was quantitated by measuring the amount of complex formed intracellularly between avidin internalized from the apical side and biotinylated horseradish peroxidase (HRP) from the basolateral side. After 15 min, 14% of the avidin marker was complexed with the biotinylated HRP and this value increased to 50% during a subsequent chase of 60 min in avidin-free medium. We also determined the kinetics of fluid internalization, recycling, transcytosis, and intracellular retention using HRP as a marker. Fluid was internalized with the same rates from either surface domain (1.2 x 10(-4) microns 3/min per microns 2 of surface area). However, significant differences were observed for each pathway in the amounts and kinetics of marker recycled and transcytosed. The content of apical early endosomes was primarily recycled and transcytosed (45% along Bach route after 1 h internalization), whereas delivery to late endocytic compartments was favored from the basolateral early endosome (77% after 1 h). Our results demonstrate that early apical and basolateral endosomes are functionally and topologically distinct, but that the endocytic pathways converge at later stages in the perinuclear region of the cell.

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