The plasma membrane and its derivative, the phagosome membrane, were studied during and after ingestion of yeast of latex beads in Dictyostelium discoideum. Freeze-fracture electron microscopy, which provides information on the internal architecture of the membranes, and observation of thin sections of cells treated by cytochemical methods were used in parallel. For visualization of membrane sterols in the replicas, the cells were fixed in the presence of digitonin or the antibiotic filipin. No lateral phase separation occurred during yeast engulfment: the intramembranous particles (IMPs), phospholipids and sterols remained distributed at random in the forming phagosome membrane. In contrast architectural modifications of the membrane were observed upon phagosome internalization. Compared to the plasma membrane, the phagosome membrane displayed 2–3 times more IMPs a shift in the IMP size distribution and a higher sterol content. These changes were completed soon after phagosome closure; they were not related either to the nature of the ingested particles (yeast, latex beads) or to the pH in the membrane environment. The membrane changes too place when the phagosomes began to fuse with pre-existing digestive or autophagic vacuoles and lysosomes. Some of the experimental evidence suggests that the restructuring of the membrane may be related to the presence of hydrolases.

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