The water permeability of the kidney collecting duct epithelium is regulated by vasopressin (VP)-induced recycling of water channels between an intracellular vesicular compartment and the plasma membrane of principal cells. To test whether the water channels pass through an acidic endosomal compartment during the endocytic portion of this pathway, we measured ATP-dependent acidification of FITC-dextran-labeled endosomes in isolated microsomal fractions from different regions of Brattleboro rat kidneys. Both VP-deficient controls and rat treated with exogenous VP were examined. ATP-dependent acidification was not detectable in endosomes containing water channels from distal papilla (osmotic water permeability Pf = 0.038 +/- 0.004 cm/s). In contrast, the addition of ATP resulted in a strong acidification of renal cortical endosomes (pHmin = 5.8, initial rate = 0.18-0.25 pH U/s). Acidification of cortical endosomes was reversed with nigericin and strongly inhibited by N-ethyl-maleimide. Passive proton permeability was similar and low in both cortical and papillary endosomes from rats treated or not treated with VP. The fraction of labeled endosomes present in microsomal preparations was determined by fluorescence imaging microscopy of microsomes nonspecifically bound to poly-l-lysine-coated coverslips and was 25% in cortical preparations compared to 14% (+VP) and 9% (-VP) in papillary preparations. The fraction of cortical endosomes was enriched 1.5-fold by immunoabsorption to coverslips coated with mAbs against the bovine vacuolar proton pump. In contrast, the fraction of papillary endosomes was depleted more than twofold by immunoabsorption to identical coverslips. Finally, sections of distal papilla stained with antibodies against the lysosomal glycoprotein LGP120 showed that most of the entrapped FITC-dextran did not colocalize with this lysosomal protein. These results demonstrate that vesicles which internalize water channels in kidney collecting duct principal cells lack functional proton pumps, and do not deliver the bulk of their FITC-dextran content to lysosomes. The data suggest that the principal cell contains a specialized nonacidic apical endocytic compartment which functions primarily to recycle membrane components, including water channels, to the plasma membrane.

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