The induction of autophagy caused by vinblastine (VBL) has been found to be concomitant with a stimulation of proteolysis in a mitochondrial-lysosomal (ML) fraction from the rat liver (Marzella and Glaumann, 1980, Lab. Invest., 42: 8-17. Marzella and Glaumann, 1980, Lab. Invest., 42:18-27). In this fraction the enhanced proteolysis is associated with a threefold increase in the relative fractional volume of autophagic vacuoles (AVs). In an attempt to isolate the AVs, we subfractionated the ML suspension at different intervals after the induction of autophagy by VBL by centrifugation on a discontinuous Metrizamide gradient ranging from 50% to 15%. The material banding at the 24 to 20% and the 20 to 15% interphases was collected. Morphological analysis reveals that 3 h after induction of autophagy these fractions consist predominantly (approximately 90%) of intact autophagic vacuoles. These autophagic vacuoles contain cytosol, mitochondria, portions of endoplasmic reticulum, and occasional very low density lipoprotein, particles either free or in Golgi apparatus derivatives, in particular secretory granules. The sequestered materials show ultrastructural signs of ongoing degradation. In addition to containing typical autophagic vacuoles, the isolated fractions consist of lysosomes lacking morphologically recognizable cellular components. Contamination from nonlysosomal material is only a few percent as judged from morphometric analysis. Typical lysosomal "marker" enzymes are enriched 15-fold, whereas the proteolytic activity is enriched 10- to 20-fold in the isolated AV fraction as compared to the homogenate. Initially, the yield of nonlysosomal mitochondrial and microsomal enzyme activities increases in parallel with the induction of autophagy but, later on, decreases with advanced degradation of the sequestered cell organelles. Therefore, in the case of AVs the presence of nonlysosomal marker enzymes cannot be used for calculation of fraction purity, since newly sequestered organelles are enzymatically active. Isolated autophagic vacuoles show proteolytic activity when incubated in vitro. The comparatively high phospholipid/protein ratio (0.5) of the AV fraction suggests that phospholipids are degraded more slow than proteins. Is it concluded that AVs can be isolated into a pure fraction and are the subcellular site of enhanced protein degradation in the rat liver after induction of autophagy.