Antibodies specific for the insulin-regulatable glucose transporter (GLUT 4) were used to immunolocalize this protein in brown adipose tissue from basal- and insulin-treated rats. Cryosections of fixed tissue were incubated with antibodies, which were subsequently labeled with Protein A/gold and examined by EM. Antibodies against albumin and cathepsin D were also used with gold particles of different sizes to identify early and late endosomes, respectively. Under basal conditions 99% of the GLUT 4 labeling was located within the cell. Labeling was predominantly in the trans-Golgi reticulum and tubulo-vesicular structures elsewhere in the cytoplasm. In insulin-stimulated cells approximately 40% of the GLUT 4 labeling was at the cell surface, where it was randomly distributed, except for occasional clustering in coated pits. Moreover, after insulin treatment, GLUT 4 was also enriched in early endosomes. We conclude that translocation of GLUT 4 to the cell surface is the major mechanism by which insulin increases glucose transport. In addition, these results suggest that in the presence of insulin GLUT 4 recycles from the cell surface, probably via the coated pit-endosome pathway that has been characterized for cell surface receptors, and also that insulin causes the redistribution of GLUT 4 by stimulating exocytosis from GLUT 4-containing tubulo-vesicular structures, rather than by slowing endocytosis of GLUT 4.

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