The endocytosis of ricin, horseradish peroxidase (HRP), and a conjugate of ricin-HRP by monolayer cultures of murine neuroblastoma was studied using morphological and biochemical techniques.

The binding of (125)I-ricin and (125)I-ricin-HRP to cells at 4 degrees C, as a function of ligand concentration, was a saturable process. The apparent affinity constants, determined at equilibrium, were 2.8 X 10(6) M(-1) for ricin and 1 x 10(6) M(-1) for ricin-HRP. The number of binding sites per cell was 8 x 10(7) and 3 x 10(7) for the lectin and the conjugate, respectively. The binding of (125)I-ricin to monolayers as not proportional to cell density. We found reduced binding at higher cell concentrations, suggesting a decrease in the accessibility of the ligand for the receptor site or fewer sites with increasing cell population.

Neuroblastoma cells have an acid-phosphatase-positive network of cisternae and vesicles near the Golgi apparatus (GERL). Ricin-HRP undergoes endocytosis in vesicles and cisternae corresponding to GERL, and in residual bodies (dense bodies). The cellular uptake of ricin-HRP was 100-200 times greater than free HRP and there was no stimulation of fluid phase endocytosis by ricin. When monolayers were exposed to concentrations of native HRP 100-fold that of the conjugate, cellular uptake of peroxidase was comparable, but HRP was localized only in residual bodies and never in elements of GERL. These results support the conclusion that GERL is involved in the adsorptive endocytosis of ricin-HRP, while residual bodies are involved in the bulk uptake of HRP.

In addition, the binding, uptake, and possible recycling of (125)I- subunit B (the binding subunit) of ricin and of (125)I-ricin was examined by quantitative electron microscope autoradiography. Both ricin and its binding subunit displayed similar autoradiographic grain distributions at 4 degrees C, and there was no evidence of their breakdown or recycling to the plasma membrane during endocytosis for 2 h.

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