We have used an in vitro assay to follow the proteins transferred from a donor to an acceptor upon fusion of early endosomes. The acceptor was a purified early endosomal fraction immunoisolated on beads and the donor was a metabolically-labeled early endosomal fraction in suspension. In the assay, both fractions were mixed in the presence of unlabeled cytosol, and then the beads were retrieved and washed. The donor proteins transferred to the acceptor were identified by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and autoradiography. Approximately 50 major proteins were transferred and this transfer fulfilled all criteria established for endosome fusion in vitro. However, only a small subset of proteins was efficiently transferred, if donor endosomes were briefly sonicated to generate small (0.1 micron diam) vesicles before the assay. These include two acidic membrane proteins, and three alkaline peripheral proteins exposed on the cytoplasmic face of the membrane. Partial sequencing and Western blotting indicated that one of the latter components is annexin II, a protein known to mediate membrane-membrane interactions. Immunogold labeling of cryosections confirmed that annexin II is present on early endosomes in vivo. These data demonstrate that annexin II, together with the other four proteins we have identified, is a major component of fusogenic endosomal vesicles, suggesting that these proteins are involved in the binding and/or fusion process.

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