The sorting of macromolecules within and between membranous organelles is often directed by information contained in protein primary or secondary structure. We show here that absent such structural information, macromolecules internalized by endocytosis in macrophages can be sorted by size. After endocytosis, small solute probes of fluid-phase pinocytosis were recycled to the extracellular medium more efficiently than large solutes. Using macropinosomes pulse labeled with fluorescent dextrans, we examined the ability of organelles to exchange solute contents. Dextran exchange was optimal between organelles of similar age, and small dextrans exchanged more efficiently than large dextrans. Efferent solute movement, from lysosomes or phagolysosomes toward the plasma membrane, occurred through the same endocytic vesicles as afferent movement, toward lysosomes and this movement was solute size dependent. Remarkably, uniform mixtures of different-sized dextrans delivered into lysosomes separated into distinct organelles containing only one dextran or the other. Thus, the dynamics of endosomes and lysosomes were sufficient to segregate macromolecules by size. This intracellular size fractionation could explain how, during antigen presentation, peptides generated by lysosomal proteases recycle selectively from lysosomes to endosomes for association with class II MHC molecules.

This content is only available as a PDF.