The binding and subsequent intracellular processing of transferrin and transferrin receptors was studied in A431 cells using 125I-transferrin and a monoclonal antibody to the receptor (ATR) labeled with 125I and gold colloid. Using 125I-transferrin we have shown that, whereas at 37 degrees C uptake proceeded linearly for up to 60 min, most of the ligand that was bound was internalized and then rapidly returned to the incubation medium undegraded. At 37 degrees C, the intracellular half-life of the most rapidly recycled transferrin was 7.5 min. 125I-ATR displayed the same kinetics of uptake but following its internalization at 37 degrees C, it was partially degraded. At 22 degrees C and below, the intracellular degradation of 125I-ATR was selectively inhibited and as a result it accumulated intracellularly. Electron microscopy of conventional thin sections and of whole-cell mounts was used to follow the uptake and processing of transferrin receptors labeled with ATR-gold colloid complexes. Using a pulse-chase protocol, the intracellular pathway followed by internalized ATR gold-receptor complexes was outlined in detail. Within 5 min at 22 degrees C the internalized complexes were transferred from coated pits on the cell surface to a system of narrow, branching cisternae within the peripheral cytoplasm. By 15 min they reached larger, more dilated elements that, in thin section, appeared as irregular profiles containing small (30-50-nm diam) vesicles. By 30 min, the gold complexes were located predominantly within typical spherical multivesicular bodies lying in the peripheral cytoplasm, and by 40-60 min, they reached a system of cisternal and multivesicular body elements in the juxtanuclear area. At 22 degrees C, no other compartments became labeled but if they were warmed to 37 degrees C the gold complexes were transferred to lysosome-like elements. Extracting ATR-gold complexes with Triton X after a 30-min chase at 22 degrees C and purifying them on Sepharose-transferrin indicated that the internalized complexes remained bound to the transferrin receptor during their intracellular processing.

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