Transport of the recycling marker transferrin was analysed in polarized hepatic HepG2 cells using quantitative fluorescence microscopy and mathematical modelling. A detailed map and kinetic model for transport of transferrin in hepatic cells was developed. Fluorescent transferrin was found to be transported sequentially through basolateral SE (sorting endosomes) to a SAC/ARC (subapical compartment/apical recycling compartment). DiI (di-indocarbocyanine) lipid probes of different acyl chain length (DiIC12 and DiIC16) co-localized with transferrin in basolateral SE and in the SAC/ARC. By kinetic comparison of hepatic transport of transferrin and labelled HDL (high-density lipoprotein), it is shown that transport of transferrin from SE to the SAC/ARC follows a default pathway together with HDL. Kinetic modelling of fluorescence data provides an identical half-time for SE-to-SAC/ARC transport of transferrin and fluorescent HDL (t½=4.2 min). Fluorescent transferrin was found to recycle with a half-time of t½=12.9 min from the SAC/ARC to the basolateral cell surface of HepG2 cells. In contrast with HDL, targeting of labelled transferrin from the SAC/ARC to the apical biliary canaliculus was negligible. The results indicate that transport from basolateral hepatic SE to the SAC/ARC represents a bulk flow process and that polarized sorting occurs mainly at the level of the SAC/ARC.

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