Cellular autophagy in convoluted tubules of kidney was studied in 24 rats, killed in pairs at constant time intervals during one diurnal cycle, by (a) morphometric evaluation of tubular cells by the point-counting method in randomly sampled micrographs, and (b) selective search for autophagic vacuoles (AV) directly on the electron microscopy screen. The total area of tubular cells recorded in the electron microscopy sections was 93 X 10(-4) mum2. Since the distal convoluted tubules, covering about 12% of the whole tubulocellular area, contained only 3-4% of all AV, they were omitted from the main calculations. The number of AV per area unit and the total amount of segregated material showed a distinct diurnal rhythm, synchronous for the different types of AV which were distinguished from each other according to their contents. The minimum was found during the night, the maximum during the day. This rhythm appears similar to that described elsewhere in liver cells. The mean segregated fractions were calculated from the relation of segregated to nonsegregated material in proximal convoluted tubular cells. The segregated fraction of the mitochondria was 4.4 X 10(-4). This value could account for the degradation of all mitochondria in a cell within 15 days, i.e., the upper limit of the lifetime of mitochondrial DNA in the cortex of the kidney, if one assumes that a mitochondrion is destroyed within 10 min after being segregated. The degregated fraction of microbodies was 11.7 X 10(-4). This suggests a shorter lifetime of these organelles. It is concluded that cellular autophagy plays a significant role in the turnover of cytoplasmic constituents, including the membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum.

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