Soluble circulating immunoglobulin G immune complexes are mainly eliminated by the liver, predominantly by uptake in the Kupffer cells, but also the liver endothelial cells seem to be of importance. In the present study we have followed the intracellular turnover of immune complexes after Fc(gamma) receptor mediated endocytosis in cultured rat liver endothelial cells and Kupffer cells by means of isopycnic centrifugation, DAB cross-linking and morphological techniques. For the biochemical experiments the antigen, dinitrophenylated bovine serum albumin (BSA), was labeled with radioiodinated tyramine cellobiose that cannot cross biological membranes and therefore traps labeled degradation products at the site of formation. The endocytic pathway followed by immune complexes was compared with that followed by scavenger receptor ligands, such as formaldehyde treated BSA and dinitrophenylated BSA, and the mannose receptor ligand ovalbumin. Both Kupffer cells and liver endothelial cells took up and degraded the immune complexes, but there was a clear delay in the degradation of immune complexes as compared to degradation of ligands taken up via scavenger receptors. The kinetics of the endocytosis of scavenger receptor ligand was unaffected by simultaneous uptake of immune complexes. Experiments using both biochemical and morphological techniques indicated that the delayed degradation was due to a late arrival of the immune complexes at the lysosomes, which partly was explained by retroendocytosis of immune complexes. Electron microscopy studies revealed that the immune complexes were retained in the early endosomes that remained accessible to other endocytic markers such as ovalbumin. In addition, the immune complexes were seen in multivesicular compartments apparently devoid of other endocytic markers. Finally, the immune complexes were degraded in the same lysosomes as the ligands of scavenger receptors. Thus, immune complexes seem to follow an endocytic pathway that is kinetically or maybe morphologically different from that followed by scavenger and mannose receptor ligands.

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