Recycling pathways of the sphingolipid glucosylceramide were studied by employing a fluorescent analog of glucosylceramide, 6(-)[N-(7-nitro-2,1,3-benzoxadiazol-4-yl)amino]hexanoylglucosyl sphingosine (C6-NBD-glucosylceramide). Direct recycling of the glycolipid from early endosomes to the plasma membrane occurs, as could be shown after treating the cells with the microtubule-disrupting agent nocodazole, which causes inhibition of the glycolipid's trafficking from peripheral early endosomes to centrally located late endosomes. When the microtubuli are intact, at least part of the glucosylceramide is transported from early to late endosomes together with ricin. Interestingly, also N-(lissamine rhodamine B sulfonyl)phosphatidylethanolamine (N-Rh-PE), a membrane marker of the fluid-phase endocytic pathway, is transported to this endosomal compartment. However, in contrast to both ricin and N-Rh-PE, the glucosylceramide can escape from this organelle and recycle to the plasma membrane. Monensin and brefeldin A have little effect on this recycling pathway, which would exclude extensive involvement of early Golgi compartments in recycling. Hence, the small fraction of the glycolipid that colocalizes with transferrin (Tf) in the Golgi area might directly recycle via the trans-Golgi network. When the intracellular pH was lowered to 5.5, recycling was drastically reduced, in accordance with the impeding effect of low intracellular pH on vesicular transport during endocytosis and in the biosynthetic pathway. Our results thus demonstrate the existence of at least two recycling pathways for glucosylceramide and indicate the relevance of early endosomes in recycling of both proteins and lipids.

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