A proton-translocating vacuolar-type ATPase (V-ATPase) was identified and characterized in the anterior silk gland of Bombyx mori. By incubating the intact tissue with the fluorescent dye Acridine Orange, the acidified compartment was detected at the apical pole of the epithelial cells. This was observed throughout the feeding period of the fifth-instar larva until the onset of spinning. Acidification was prevented completely and reversibly by 0.8 micromol l-1 bafilomycin A1, a specific inhibitor of V-ATPase. The presence of V-ATPase in a microsomal fraction was verified by immunoblots using an antiserum to the V-ATPase holoenzyme from Manduca sexta midgut. The antiserum localized the V-ATPase to the apical plasma membrane of the anterior silk gland cells, suggesting that the enzyme is functionally active in pumping protons out of the cell towards the glandular lumen of feeding silkworm larvae. In spinning larvae, the acidification produced by the V-ATPase appears to cease, because acidic compartments were seen rarely and only in the periphery of basal cytoplasm, and because immunocytochemical staining for the V-ATPase was greatly reduced at the apical surface. The metamorphic changes in relation to the occurrence of V-ATPase corresponded well with the ultrastructural changes in the anterior silk gland cell of Bombyx mori larvae.

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