We have previously demonstrated that the preendosomal compartment in addition to clathrin-coated vesicles, comprises distinct nonclathrin coated endocytic vesicles mediating clathrin-independent endocytosis (Hansen, S. H., K. Sandvig, and B. van Deurs. 1991. J. Cell Biol. 113:731-741). Using K+ depletion in HEp-2 cells to block clathrin-dependent but not clathrin-independent endocytosis, we have now traced the intracellular routing of these nonclathrin coated vesicles to see whether molecules internalized by clathrin-independent endocytosis are delivered to a unique compartment or whether they reach the same early and late endosomes as encountered by molecules internalized with high efficiency through clathrin-coated pits and vesicles. We find that Con A-gold internalized by clathrin-independent endocytosis is delivered to endosomes containing transferrin receptors. After incubation of K(+)-depleted cells with Con A-gold for 15 min, approximately 75% of Con A-gold in endosomes is colocalized with transferrin receptors. Endosomes containing only Con A-gold may be accounted for either by depletion of existing endosomes for transferrin receptors or by de novo generation of endosomes. Cationized gold and BSA-gold internalized in K(+)-depleted cells are also delivered to endosomes containing transferrin receptors. h-lamp-1-enriched compartments are only reached occasionally within 30 min in K(+)-depleted as well as in control cells. Thus, preendosomal vesicles generated by clathrin-independent endocytosis do not fuse to any marked degree with late endocytic compartments. These data show that in HEp-2 cells, molecules endocytosed without clathrin are delivered to the same endosomes as reached by transferrin receptors internalized through clathrin-coated pits.

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