Mouse L-fibroblasts internalized large amounts of cationized ferritin (CF) by pinocytosis. Initially (60-90 s after addition of CF to cell monolayers at 37 degrees C), CF was found in vesicles measuring 100-400 nm (sectioned diameter) and as small clusters adhering to the inner aspect of the limiting membrane of a few large (greater than 600 nm) vacuoles. After 5-30 min, CF labeling of large vacuoles was pronounced and continuous. Moreover, 70-80% of all labeled structures were tiny (less than 100 nm) vesicles. However, the absolute frequency of tiny vesicles increased more than twofold from 5 min to 30 min. When the cells were incubated with CF for 30 min, then washed and further incubated for 3 h without CF, almost all CF was present in dense bodies (100-500 nm). When L-cells were first incubated with horseradish peroxidase (HRP), then washed and incubated with CF, double-labeled vacuoles were observed. Tiny vesicles also contained HRP-CF, and small HRP-CF patches were localized on the cell surface. Distinct labeling of stacked Golgi cisterns was not observed in any experiment. These observations suggest that the numerous tiny vesicles are not endocytic but rather pinch off from the large vacuoles and move towards the cell surface to fuse with the plasma membrane. Thus, ultrastructural evidence is provided in favor of a direct membrane shuttle between the plasma membrane and the lysosomal compartment.

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