TMA-DPH (1-(4-trimethylammonium)-6-phenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene), a hydrophobic fluorescent membrane probe, interacts with living cells by instantaneous incorporation into the plasma membrane, where it becomes fluorescent. It then follows the intracellular constitutive membrane traffic and acts as a bulk membrane marker of the endocytic pathway (Illinger, D., P. Poindron, P. Fonteneau, M. Modolell, and J. G. Kuhry. 1990. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 1030:73-81; Illinger, D., P. Poindron, and J. G. Kuhry. 1991. Biol. Cell. 73:131-138). As such, TMA-DPH displays particular properties mainly due to partition between membranes and aqueous media. From these properties, original arguments can be inferred in favor of the maturation model for the endocytic pathway, against that of pre-existing compartments, in L929 cultured mouse fibroblasts. (a) TMA-DPH labeling is seen to progress from the cell periphery to perinuclear regions during endocytosis without any noticeable loss in fluorescence intensity; with a vesicle shuttle model this evolution would be accompanied by probe dilution with a decrease in the overall intracellular fluorescence intensity, and the labeling of the inner (late) compartments could in no way become more intense than that of the peripheral (early) ones. (b) From TMA-DPH fluorescence anisotropy assays, it is concluded that membrane fluidity is the same in the successive endocytic compartments as in the plasma membrane, which probably denotes a similar phospholipidic membrane composition, as might be expected in the maturation model. (c) TMA-DPH internalization and release kinetics are more easily described with the maturation model.

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