Recent work from several laboratories has suggested the participation of intermediate structures in the delivery of adsorbed ligands from the plasma membrane to lysosomes. This report presents subcellular fractionation studies bearing on the role of these structures in adsorptive pinocytosis of epidermal growth factor (EGF), beta-hexosaminidase, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) by human fibroblasts. Using a two-step Percoll density gradient fractionation, we identified newly internalized (5 min) EGF in two intermediate density structures that are essentially negative for plasma membrane marker, and more bouyant than secondary lysosomes. Continued incubation for 20 min resulted in transfer to (or conversion to) vesicles sedimenting with secondary lysosomes. Internalized beta-hexosaminidase and LDL behaved similarly, appearing first in structures of intermediate density, and later appearing in association with secondary lysosomes. Two drugs, NH4Cl and monensin, were found to inhibit ligand transfer to the secondary lysosome peak, although they did not inhibit entry of bound ligands into intermediate density structures. Upon removal of both inhibitors, internalized ligands were quickly transferred to the secondary lysosome peak. This "transfer process" was faster for EGF, than for the other two ligands studied. We interpret these data to indicate that the endocytosis of these three ligands, and their delivery to lysosomes in fibroblasts, proceeds through a common pathway, involving intermediate nonlysosomal structures.

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