Previous experiments led us to speculate that thyrocytes contain a recycling system for GlcNAc-bearing immature thyroglobulin molecules which prevents these molecules from lysosomal degradation (Miquelis, R., C. Alquier, and M. Monsigny. 1987. J. Biol. Chem. 262:15291-15298). To confirm this hypothesis, the fate of GlcNAc-bearing proteins after internalization by thyrocytes was monitored and compared to that of fluid phase markers. Kinetic internalization studies were performed using 125I-GlcNAc-BSA and 131I-Man-BSA. We observed that the apparent intake rate as well as the amount of hydrolyzed GlcNAc-BSA are smaller than the corresponding values for Man-BSA. These differences were reduced by GlcNAc competitors (thyroglobulin and ovomucoid) or a weak base (chloroquine). Part of the internalized GlcNAc-BSA was released into the extracellular milieu at a higher rate and shorter half life (t1/2 = approximately 30 min) than the Man-BSA (t1/2 = approximately 8 h). Subcellular homing was first studied by cell fractionation after internalization using 125I-ovomucoid and 131I-BSA. During Percoll density gradient fractionation, endogenous thyroperoxidase was used to separate subsets of organelles involved in the biosynthetic exocytotic pathway. Incubation of the cell homogenate in the presence of DAB and H2O2 before cell fractionation give rise to a shift in the density of organelles containing 3.5 times more ovomucoid than BSA. Discontinuous sucrose gradient showed that: (a) thyroperoxidase was colocalized with galactosyltransferase-contraining organelles in Golgi-rich subfractions; and (b) that at every time studied from 10 to 100 min, the ovomucoid/BSA ratio was higher in these organelles than in other subfractions. Finally we also observed that: (a) ovomucoid sequestered in the Golgi-rich subfraction incorporated [3H]galactose; and (b) that part of internalized ovomucoid was localized on the Golgi stacks as well as elements of the trans-Golgi, as revealed by immunogold labeling on ultrathin cryosections. These data prove that in thyrocytes GlcNAc accessible sugar moieties on soluble internalized molecules are sufficient to trigger their recycling via the Golgi apparatus.

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