Mouse fibroblasts (3T3-L1 cells) accumulate detergent- and salt-insoluble aggregates of proteins conjugated to ubiquitin when incubated in the presence of inhibitors of lysosomal cysteine cathepsins, including E-64. These ubiquitin-protein conjugates co-fractionate with lysosomes on density gradients and are found in multivesicular dense bodies which by electron microscopy appear to be engaged in microautophagy. Both E-64 and ammonium chloride increase the intracellular concentration of free ubiquitin, but only E-64 leads to the formation of insoluble lysosomal ubiquitin-protein conjugates. The results are discussed in relation to the possible intracellular roles of ubiquitin conjugation.

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