Adipose and skeletal-muscle cells can translocate several membrane proteins from intracellular compartment(s) to the cell surface in an insulin-dependent fashion. Among these proteins is Glut4, a physiologically important glucose transporter which mediates insulin's effect on blood glucose clearance. Under basal conditions, Glut4 is localized in uniform, intracellular membrane vesicles with an average diameter of 50–70 nm and a sedimentation coefficient of 100–120 S. The nature of this compartment and its trafficking pathway to the plasma membrane is still unresolved. We show here that, in addition to Glut4, the aminopeptidase gp160 or insulin-responsive aminopeptidase (‘IRAP’), sortilin, and an acutely recycling population of the insulin-like growth factor-II/mannose 6-phosphate receptor, this compartment includes 60% of the intracellular population of the transferrin receptor. We used subcellular fractionation, cell-surface biotinylation, and radioactive-ligand (125I-transferrin) uptake to demonstrate that the transferrin receptor recycles between this compartment and the plasma membrane in response to insulin along with Glut4 and other protein components of these vesicles. The co-localization of Glut4 and several endosomal markers in the terminally differentiated fat-cells during several stages of their cycling pathways suggests that the ‘Glut4 pathway ’ may derive from the hormone-insensitive endosomes of undifferentiated preadipocytes. The insulin receptor is excluded from Glut4-containing vesicles in both insulin-stimulated and unstimulated adipocytes, and thus it is likely to traffic independently from Glut4 through different intracellular compartments. Our data show that, in adipose cells, the ligand-dependent recycling pathway of the insulin receptor is structurally separated from the ligand-independent pathway of the transferrin receptor, and that Glut4 is specifically targetted to the latter.

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