Endocytosed proteins are sorted in early endosomes to be recycled to the plasma membrane or transported further into the degradative pathway. We studied the role of endosomes acidification on the endocytic trafficking of the transferrin receptor (TfR) as a representative for the recycling pathway, the cation-dependent mannose 6-phosphate receptor (MPR) as a prototype for transport to late endosomes, and fluid-phase endocytosed HRP as a marker for transport to lysosomes. Toward this purpose, bafilomycin A1 (Baf), a specific inhibitor of the vacuolar proton pump, was used to inhibit acidification of the vacuolar system. Microspectrofluorometric measurement of the pH of fluorescein-rhodamine-conjugated transferrin (Tf)-containing endocytic compartments in living cells revealed elevated endosomal pH values (pH > 7.0) within 2 min after addition of Baf. Although recycling of endocytosed Tf to the plasma membrane continued in the presence of Baf, recycled Tf did not dissociate from its receptor, indicating failure of Fe3+ release due to a neutral endosomal pH. In the presence of Baf, the rates of internalization and recycling of Tf were reduced by a factor of 1.40 +/- 0.08 and 1.57 +/- 0.25, respectively. Consequently, little if any in TfR expression at the cell surface was measured during Baf treatment. Sorting between endocytosed TfR and MPR was analyzed by the HRP-catalyzed 3,3'-diaminobenzidine cross-linking technique, using transferrin conjugated to HRP to label the endocytic pathway of the TfR. In the absence of Baf, endocytosed surface 125I-labeled MPR was sorted from the TfR pathway starting at 10 min after uptake, reaching a plateau of 40% after 45 min. In the presence of Baf, sorting was initiated after 20 min of uptake, reaching approximately 40% after 60 min. Transport of fluid-phase endocytosed HRP to late endosomes and lysosomes was measured using cell fractionation and immunogold electron microscopy. Baf did not interfere with transport of HRP to MPR-labeled late endosomes, but nearly completely abrogated transport to cathepsin D-labeled lysosomes. From these results, we conclude that trafficking through early and late endosomes, but not to lysosomes, continued upon inactivation of the vacuolar proton pump.

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