Fc receptors on the luminal membranes of intestinal epithelial cells in the neonatal rat mediate the vesicular transfer of functionally intact IgG from the intestinal lumen to the circulation. In addition, there is a low level of nonselective protein uptake, but in this case transfer does not occur. To determine whether a specialized class of endocytic vesicles could account for the selective transfer of IgG, mixtures of IgG conjugated to ferritin (IgG-Ft) and unconjugated horseradish peroxidase (HRP) were injected together into the proximal intestine of 10-d-old rats, and the cellular distribution of these two different tracers was determined by electron microscopy. Virtually all apical endocytic vesicles contained both tracers, indicating simultaneous uptake of both proteins within the same vesicle. However, only IgG-Ft bound to the apical plasma membrane, appeared within coated vesicles at the lateral cell surface, and was released from cells. HRP did not bind to the luminal membrane and was not transferred across cells but was confined to apical lysosomes as identified by acid phosphatase and aryl sulfatase activities. To test the possibility that the binding of IgG to its receptor stimulated endocytosis, HRP was used as a fluid volume tracer, and the amount of HRP taken up by cells in the presence and absence of IgG was measured morphologically and biochemically. The results demonstrate that endocytosis in these cells is constitutive and occurs at the same level in the absence of IgG. The evidence presented indicates that the principal selective mechanism for IgG transfer is the binding of IgG to its receptor during endocytosis. Continued binding to vesicle membranes appears to be required for successful transfer because unbound proteins are removed from the transport pathway before exocytosis. These results favor the proposal that IgG is transferred across cells as an IgG-receptor complex.

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