The digestive cycle following reabsorption of hemoglobin by cells of the proximal convoluted tubules in mouse kidney and the uptake of ferritin by glomerular mesangial cells in the kidney of normal and nephrotic rats were investigated by electron microscopical histochemical procedures.

Mouse kidneys, sampled at closely spaced time points between 1 to 48 hours after intraperitoneal injection of hemoglobin, and rat (normal and nephrotic) kidneys, sampled at 30 minutes, 2 hours, and 48 hours after intravenous injection of ferritin, were fixed in glutaraldehyde, cut at 50 µ on a freezing microtome, incubated for acid phosphatase and thiolacetate-esterase, and postfixed in OsO4. Satisfactory preservation of fine structure permitted the localization of the enzymatic reaction products on cell structures involved in uptake and digestion of exogenous proteins. The latter were identified either by their density (hemoglobin) or their molecular structure (ferritin).

It was found that lysosomal enzymic activities and incorporated exogenous proteins occur together in the same membrane-bounded structures. In the cells of the proximal convolution, lytic activities become demonstrable within 1 hour after hemoglobin injection, appear first in apical vacuoles filled with hemoglobin, and persist in fully formed protein absorption droplets. At the end of the lytic cycle (∼48 hours post injection), the cells have an increased population of polymorphic bodies which exhibit lytic activities. In smaller numbers, identical bodies occur in controls. It is concluded that they represent remnants of previous digestive events.

The means by which the resorptive vacuoles acquire hydrolytic activities remain unknown. Fusion of newly formed vacuoles with residual bodies was not seen, and hemoglobin incorporation into such bodies was only occasionally encountered. Acid phosphatase activity was found sometimes in the Golgi complex, but enzyme transport from the complex to the resorbing vacuoles could not be established. Autolytic vacuoles containing mitochondria or mitochondrial remnants were frequently found during the early stages of hemoglobin resorption, but no definite conclusions about the mechanism involved in the segregation of endogenous material were obtained.

In nephrotic rats ferritin was segregated in membrane-bounded bodies mainly in the mesangial cells and to a lesser extent in epithelial and endothelial cells. Most of these sites were marked by the reaction products of acid phosphatase and organophosphorus-resistant esterase and therefore identified as lysosomes connected with the digestion of incorporated exogenous proteins.

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