Decorin, a small interstitial dermatan sulfate proteoglycan, is turned over in cultured cells of mesenchymal origin by receptor-mediated endocytosis followed by intralysosomal degradation. Two endosomal proteins of 51 and 26 kD have been implicated in the endocytotic process because of their interaction with decorin core protein. However, heparin and protein-free dermatan sulfate were able to inhibit endocytosis of decorin in a concentration-dependent manner. After Western blotting of endosomal proteins, there was competition for binding to the 51- and 26-kD proteins between heparin and decorin. In spite of its high-affinity binding, heparin was poorly cleared from the medium of cultured cells and then catabolized in lysosomes. In contrast to decorin, binding of heparin to the 51- and 26-kD proteins was insensitive to acidic pH, thus presumably preventing its dissociation from the receptor in the endosome. Recycling of heparin to the cell surface after internalization could indeed be demonstrated.

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