We are studying intercompartmental protein transport to the yeast lysosome-like vacuole with a reconstitution assay using permeabilized spheroplasts that measures, in an ATP and cytosol dependent reaction, vacuolar delivery and proteolytic maturation of the Golgi-modified precursor forms of vacuolar hydrolases like carboxypeptidase Y (CPY). To identify the potential donor compartment in this assay, we used subcellular fractionation procedures that have uncovered a novel membrane-enclosed prevacuolar transport intermediate. Differential centrifugation was used to separate permeabilized spheroplasts into 15K and 150K g membrane pellets. Centrifugation of these pellets to equilibrium on sucrose density gradients separated vacuolar and Golgi complex marker enzymes into light and dense fractions, respectively. When the Golgi-modified precursor form of CPY (p2CPY) was examined (after a 5-min pulse, 30-s chase), as much as 30-40% fractionated with an intermediate density between both the vacuole and the Golgi complex. Pulse-chase labeling and fractionation of membranes indicated that p2CPY in this gradient region had already passed through the Golgi complex, which kinetically ordered it between the Golgi and the vacuole. A mutant CPY protein that lacks a functional vacuolar sorting signal was detected in Golgi fractions but not in the intermediate compartment indicating that this corresponds to a post-sorting compartment. Based on the low transport efficiency of the mutant CPY protein in vitro (decreased by sevenfold), this intermediate organelle most likely represents the donor compartment in our reconstitution assay. This organelle is not likely to be a transport vesicle intermediate because EM analysis indicates enrichment of 250-400 nm compartments and internalization of surface-bound 35S-alpha-factor at 15 degrees C resulted in its apparent cofractionation with wild-type p2CPY, indicating an endosome-like compartment (Singer, B., and H. Reizman. 1990. J. Cell Biol. 110:1911-1922). Fractionation of p2CPY accumulated in the temperature sensitive vps15 mutant revealed that the vps15 transport block did not occur in the endosome-like compartment but rather in the late Golgi complex, presumably the site of CPY sorting. Therefore, as seen in mammalian cells, yeast CPY is sorted away from secretory proteins in the late Golgi and transits to the vacuole via a distinct endosome-like intermediate.

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