The small GTPase rab5 has been shown to represent a key regulator in the endocytic pathway of mammalian cells. Using a PCR approach to identify rab5 homologs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, two genes encoding proteins with 54 and 52% identity to rab5, YPT51 and YPT53 have been identified. Sequencing of the yeast chromosome XI has revealed a third rab5-like gene, YPT52, whose protein product exhibits a similar identity to rab5 and the other two YPT gene products. In addition to the high degree of identity/homology shared between rab5 and Ypt51p, Ypt52p, and Ypt53p, evidence for functional homology between the mammalian and yeast proteins is provided by phenotypic characterization of single, double, and triple deletion mutants. Endocytic delivery to the vacuole of two markers, lucifer yellow CH (LY) and alpha-factor, was inhibited in delta ypt51 mutants and aggravated in the double ypt51ypt52 and triple ypt51ypt52ypt53 mutants, suggesting a requirement for these small GTPases in endocytic membrane traffic. In addition to these defects, the here described ypt mutants displayed a number of other phenotypes reminiscent of some vacuolar protein sorting (vps) mutants, including a differential delay in growth and vacuolar protein maturation, partial missorting of a soluble vacuolar hydrolase, and alterations in vacuole acidification and morphology. In fact, vps21 represents a mutant allele of YPT51 (Emr, S., personal communication). Altogether, these data suggest that Ypt51p, Ypt52p, and Ypt53p are required for transport in the endocytic pathway and for correct sorting of vacuolar hydrolases suggesting a possible intersection of the endocytic with the vacuolar sorting pathway.

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