The T lymphocyte growth factor interleukin 2 binds to surface high-affinity receptors and is rapidly internalized and degraded in acidic organelles. The alpha and beta chains of high-affinity interleukin 2 receptors are internalized together with interleukin 2. To identify the intracellular pathway followed by interleukin 2, we have compared the subcellular distribution of interleukin 2, transferrin and a fluid-phase marker, horseradish peroxidase, in the human T cell line IARC 301.5. Transferrin was used as a marker of early and recycling endosomes, and horseradish peroxidase to probe for the whole endocytic pathway. Fractionation of intracellular organelles on a discontinuous sucrose gradient showed that internalized interleukin 2 is initially mostly found in compartments with similar densities to transferrin, e.g. early and recycling endosomes. The kinetics of entry and exit of interleukin 2 from such organelles was much slower than that of transferrin. Later on, interleukin 2 is predominantly found in dense lysosome-containing fractions. Very little, if any, interleukin 2 was found in fractions corresponding to late endosomes containing horseradish peroxidase. These results suggest that, after endocytosis, interleukin 2 enters early or recycling endosomes before it reaches dense lysosomes.

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