We investigated the interaction and transport of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) through the arterial endothelium in rat aorta and coronary artery, by perfusing in situ native, untagged human, and rat LDL. The latter was rendered electron-opaque after it interacted with the endothelial cell and was subsequently fixed within tissue. We achieved LDL electron-opacity by an improved fixation procedure using 3,3'-diaminobenzidine, and mordanting with tannic acid. The unequivocal identification of LDL was implemented by reacting immunocytochemically the perfused LDL with anti LDL-horseradish peroxidase conjugate. Results indicate that LDL is taken up and internalized through two parallel compartmented routes. (a) A relatively small amount of LDL is taken up by endocytosis via: (i) a receptor-mediated process (adsorptive endocytosis) that involved coated pits/vesicles, and endosomes, and, probably, (ii) a receptor-independent process (fluid endocytosis) carried out by a fraction of plasmalemmal vesicles. Both mechanisms bringing LDL to lysosomes supply cholesterol to the endothelial cell itself. (b) Most circulating LDL is transported across the endothelial cell by transcytosis via plasmalemmal vesicles which deliver LDL to the other cells of the vessel wall. Endocytosis is not enhanced by increasing LDL concentration, but the receptor-mediated internalization decreases at low temperature. Transcytosis is less modified by low temperature but is remarkably augmented at high concentration of LDL. While the endocytosis of homologous (rat) LDL is markedly more pronounced than that of heterologous (human) LDL, both types of LDL are similarly transported by transcytosis. These results indicate that the arterial endothelium possesses a dual mechanism for handling circulating LDL: by a high affinity process, endocytosis secures the endothelial cells' need for cholesterol; by a low-affinity nonsaturable uptake process, transcytosis supplies cholesterol to the other cells of the vascular wall, and can monitor an excessive accumulation of plasma LDL. Since in most of our experiments we used LDL concentrations above those found in normal rats, we presume that at low LDL concentrations saturable high-affinity uptake would be enhanced in relation to nonsaturable pathways.

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