To characterize the role of the endosome in the degradation of insulin in liver, we employed a cell-free system in which the degradation of internalized 125I-insulin within isolated intact endosomes was evaluated. Incubation of endosomes containing internalized 125I-insulin in the cell-free system resulted in a rapid generation of TCA soluble radiolabeled products (t1/2, 6 min). Sephadex G-50 chromatography of radioactivity extracted from endosomes during the incubation showed a time dependent increase in material eluting as radioiodotyrosine. The apparent Vmax of the insulin degrading activity was 4 ng insulin cell fraction protein-1 and the apparent Km was 60 ng cell fraction protein-1. The endosomal protease(s) was insulin-specific since neither internalized 125I-epidermal growth factor (EGF) nor 125I-prolactin was degraded within isolated endosomes as assessed by TCA precipitation and Sephadex G-50 chromatography. Significant inhibition of degradation was observed after inclusion of p-chloromercuribenzoic acid (PCMB), 1,10-phenanthroline, bacitracin, or 0.1% Triton X-100 into the system. Maximal insulin degradation required the addition of ATP to the cell-free system that resulted in acidification as measured by acridine orange accumulation. Endosomal insulin degradation was inhibited markedly in the presence of pH dissipating agents such as nigericin, monensin, and chloroquine or the proton translocase inhibitors N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) and dicyclohexylcarbodiimide (DCCD). Polyethylene glycol (PEG) precipitation of insulin-receptor complexes revealed that endosomal degradation augmented the dissociation of insulin from its receptor and that dissociated insulin was serving as substrate to the endosomal protease(s). The results suggest that as insulin is internalized it rapidly but incompletely dissociates from its receptor. Dissociated insulin is then degraded by an insulin specific protease(s) leading to further dissociation and degradation.

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