Depending on their phospholipid composition, liposomes are endocytosed by, or fuse with, the plasma membrane, of Acanthamoeba castellanii. Unilamellar egg lecithin vesicles are endocytosed by amoeba at 28 degrees C with equal uptake of the phospholipid bilayer and the contents of the internal aqueous space of the vesicles. Uptake is inhibited almost completely by incubation at 4 degrees C or in the presence of dinitrophenol. After uptake at 28 degrees C, the vesicle phospholipid can be visualized by electron microscope autoradiography within cytoplasmic vacuoles. In contrast, uptake of unilamellar dipalmitoyl lecithin vesicles and multilamellar dipalmitoyl lecithin liposomes is only partially inhibited at 4 degrees C, by dinitrophenol and by prior fixation of the amoebae with glutaraldehyde, each of which inhibits pinocytosis. Vesicle contents are taken up only about 40% as well as the phospholipid bilayer. Electron micrographs are compatible with the interpretation that dipalmitoyl lecithin vesicles fuse with the amoeba plasma membrane, adding their phospholipid to the cell surface, while their contents enter the cell cytoplasm. Dimyristoyl lecithin vesicles behave like egg lecithin vesicles while distearoyl lecithin vesicles behave like dipalmitoyl lecithin vesicles.

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