Receptor molecules play a major role in the desensitization of agonist-stimulated cellular responses. For G protein-coupled receptors, rapid desensitization occurs via receptor phosphorylation, sequestration, and internalization, yet the cellular compartments in which these events occur and their interrelationships are unclear. In this work, we focus on the cholecystokinin (CCK) receptor, which has been well characterized with respect to phosphorylation. We have used novel fluorescent and electron-dense CCK receptor ligands and an antibody to probe receptor localization in a CCK receptor-bearing CHO cell line. In the unstimulated state, receptors were diffusely distributed over the plasmalemma. Agonist occupation stimulated endocytosis via both clathrin-dependent and independent pathways. The former was predominant, leading to endosomal and lysosomal compartments, as well as recycling to the plasmalemma. The clathrin-independent processes led to a smooth vesicular compartment adjacent to the plasmalemma resembling caveolae, which did not transport ligand deeper within the cell. Potassium depletion largely eliminated clathrin-dependent endocytosis, while not interfering with agonist-stimulated receptor movement into subplasmalemmal smooth vesicle compartments. These cellular endocytic events can be related to the established cycle of CCK receptor phosphorylation and dephosphorylation, which we have previously described (Klueppelberg, U. G., L. K. Gates, F. S. Gorelick, and L. J. Miller. 1991. J. Biol. Chem. 266:2403-2408; Lutz, M. P., D. I. Pinon, L. K. Gates, S. Shenolikar, and L. J. Miller. 1993. J. Biol. Chem. 268:12136-12142). The rapid onset and peak of receptor phosphorylation after agonist occupation correlates best with a plasmalemmal localization, while stimulated receptor phosphatase activity correlates best with receptor residence in intracellular compartments. We postulate that the smooth vesicular compartment adjacent to the plasmalemma functions for the rapid resensitization of the receptor, while the classical clathrin-mediated endocytotic pathway is key for receptor downregulation via lysosomal degradation, as well as less rapid resensitization.

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