We have used endocytic and phagocytic tracers in an EM immunocytochemical study to define the compartments of the phagocytic and endocytic pathways in mouse peritoneal macrophages. Endocytosed BSA-gold appeared successively in early endosomes, spherical endosomal vesicles, a late endosomal tubuloreticular compartment (TC), and terminal lysosomes. The TC appeared as an elaborate structure enriched for the lysosomal membrane glycoproteins Lamp 1 and Lamp 2, and expressing significant levels of rab7, a late endosome-specific GTP-binding protein. The cation-independent mannose-6-phosphate receptor was restricted to specialized regions of the TC that were predominantly adjacent to the Golgi complex. Both the early endosome and the TC had coated bud structures whose composition and function are presently unknown. Phagolysosomes containing latex beads expressed the same membrane antigens and received endocytic tracers simultaneously with the TC. Since the membrane surrounding both organelles was also in direct continuity, we assume that both structures form one functional compartment. Macrosialin, an antigen confined to macrophages and dendritic cells, was heavily expressed in TC and phagolysosomal membranes with low levels being detected in other endosomal compartments and on the cell surface. Treatment of cells with wheat germ agglutinin drastically altered the morphology of the TC, giving rise to sheets of tightly adherent membrane and greatly expanded vesicles, in which cell-associated wheat germ agglutinin was concentrated. The spherical endosomal carrier vesicles loaded with internalized gold tracers clustered nearby, often making contact without fusing. Since the delivery of endocytic tracer to the TC was significantly delayed these experiments suggest that the lectin is somehow preventing the endosome vesicles from fusing with the TC. Collectively, our data argue first that the PLC is equivalent to the "tubular lysosomes" commonly described in macrophages, and second that the meeting of the phagocytic and endocytic pathway occurs in this compartment.

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