One of the early events in the pathway of receptor-mediated endocytosis is the acidification of the newly formed endocytic vesicle. To examine the mechanism of acidification, we used fluorescein-labeled alpha 2-macroglobulin (F-alpha 2M) as a probe for endocytic vesicle pH. Changes in pH were determined from the change in fluorescein fluorescence at 490-nm excitation as measured with a microscope spectrofluorometer. After endocytosis of F-alpha 2M, mouse fibroblast cells were permeabilized by brief exposure to the detergent digitonin. Treatment with the ionophore monensin or the protonophore carbonyl cyanide p-trifluoromethoxyphenylhydrazone (FCCP) caused a rapid increase in the pH of the endocytic vesicle. Upon removal of the ionophore, the endocytic vesicle rapidly acidified only when MgATP or MgGTP was added. Neither ADP nor the nonhydrolyzable analog, adenosine 5'-(beta, gamma-imido)triphosphate (AMP-PNP) could support acidification. The ATP-dependent acidification did not require a specific cation or anion in the external media. Acidification was insensitive to vanadate and amiloride but was inhibited by Zn2+ and the anion transport inhibitor diisothiocyanostilbene disulfonic acid (DIDS). We also examined the acidification of lysosomes with the permeabilized cell system, using fluorescein isothiocyanate dextran as probe. DIDS inhibited the ATP-dependent reacidification of lysosomes, although at a lower concentration than that for inhibition of endocytic vesicle reacidification. These results demonstrate that endocytic vesicles contain an ATP-dependent acidification mechanism that shares similar characteristics with the previously described lysosomal proton pump.

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