Three discrete endosomal fractions showing a time-dependent uptake of radioactive ligand were partially purified from rat liver. The 3,3′-diaminobenzidine (DAB)-induced density-shift protocol of Courtoy, Quintart & Baudhuin [(1984) J. Cell Biol. 98, 870-876] was used to study the distribution among these three endosomal fractions of two ligands with different intracellular destinations. Rats received both 125I-asialo-orosomucoid-horseradish peroxidase (125I-ASOR-HRP) and 131I-dIgA simultaneously by intraportal injection. The liver was fractionated at various times after injection, the three ligand-containing endosomal fractions (A, B and C) were separated and each was subjected separately to the DAB-induced density-shift procedure in which only vesicles containing 125I-ASOR-HRP are increased in density. Information on whether 131I-dIgA was co-localized or segregated from 125I-ASOR-HRP was obtained. The two ligands in the A fraction were partly segregated and partly co-localized, and this distribution appeared to be relatively unchanged with time. The two ligands in the B fraction were co-localized at all times studied. We have tentatively identified the B fraction as a compartment in which vesicle fusion has occurred. The two ligands in the C fraction were also partly co-localized and partly segregated, but the 131I-dIgA became increasingly segregated with time. This represents the first report of the purification of an endosomal subfraction specifically involved in the accumulation of multiple ligands.

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