The binding of rat hepatocytes to flat polyacrylamide surfaces containing galactose is sugar-specific, requires Ca+2, and occurs only above a critical concentration of sugar in the substratum [Weigel et al., 1979, J. Biol. Chem., 254, 10,830). Binding is completely inhibited by asialo-orosomucoid but not by orosomucoid or asialo-agalacto-orosomucoid, suggesting that cell binding is mediated by asialoglycoprotein receptors. Asialo-orosomucoid was labeled with fluorescein isothiocyanate and used as a direct fluorescent probe to monitor the distribution of cell surface asialoglycoprotein receptors before and after hepatocyte binding to galactoside or control substrata. Cells bound at 37 degrees C were de-adhered at 4 degrees C using the Ca+2 chelator EGTA. The released cells were then stained with fluorescein-asialo-orosomucoid, fixed, washed, and examined by fluorescence microscopy. On freshly isolated cells before binding, the distribution of asialoglycoprotein receptors appears diffuse and nonclustered. However, more than half of the cells released intact from a galactoside surface had a single large (4 micrometer2) fluorescent patch. The receptor patch cannot be detected on cells while they are bound to a galactoside surface but rather only on released cells, indicating that the cell-substratum junction is the site of the receptor patch. No asialoglycoprotein receptor patches (less than or equal to 1%) were observed on cells that were incubated on, but did not bind to, an underivatized polyacrylamide surface or to a surface with a galactose concentration below the critical concentration for binding. Furthermore, no receptor patches were present on cells that had bound to and were subsequently released from substrata that did not contain galactose, including glass, tissue culture plastic, nontissue culture plastic, and collagen. The distribution of asialoglycoprotein receptors is preserved at 4 degrees C because at 37 degrees C the patches disappear with a half-life of approximately 2.6 min. The results directly demonstrate that a large cluster of asialoglycoprotein receptors mediates the binding of rat hepatocytes to a galactoside surface.

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