The controversy whether endocytic processing occurs by organellar maturation or by vesicular traffic has not been resolved. It is also not clear whether maturation continues to the stage of lysosomes, to what extent it involves a decrease in organellar fusogenicity, and how it relates to membrane recycling. Maturation and vesicular traffic imply distinct kinetics for the intermingling of endocytic markers after sequential endocytic uptake. We have studied the kinetics of intermingling of fluid-phase markers (fluorescein-labelled dextran and horseradish peroxidase) and cell surface-derived membrane (labelled by galactosylation) in organelles at early and late stages of the endocytic pathway in macrophage-like P388D1 cells. Intermingling declined by sigmoid kinetics, indicating that endosomes matured within about 3 minutes to become non-fusogenic towards early endosomes. During maturation about 60% of internalized membrane was recycled with T1/2 approximately 2 minutes. Whereas matured endosomes were non-fusogenic towards early endosomes and towards each other, a second phase of intermingling was observed upon delivery to lysosomes. This intermingling occurred by a first-order process (T1/2 approximately 4 minutes), concurrent with recycling of the remaining 40% of internalized membrane marker. These kinetic observations suggest a model for endocytic processing which reconciles maturation of early endosomes with the known function of carrier vesicles: Endocytic carrier vesicles do not bud off from permanent early endosomes as proposed for vesicular traffic, but are derived, together with recycling vesicles, from the maturation of early endosomes which are consumed by this process; these carrier vesicles subsequently mediate delivery to lysosomes by vesicular traffic during which the remaining surface-derived membrane is recycled.

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