Dynamic imaging of the recycling endosomal network in macrophages

Methods Cell Biol. 2015:130:1-18. doi: 10.1016/bs.mcb.2015.04.007. Epub 2015 Jun 11.


Recycling endosomes (REs) form an extensive and complex network of subcompartmentalized vesicular and tubular elements that connect with the cell surface and other endosomes in macrophages. As surveillance and defense cells of the innate immune system, macrophages are highly dependent on REs for their active and voluminous cell surface turnover and endocytic, exocytic, and recycling of membrane and cargo. Here we set out three approaches for imaging and analyzing REs in macrophages, based on the expression of fluorescently labeled RE-associated proteins and the uptake of fluorescent cargo. Subcompartments of the REs are identified by co-expression and co-localization analysis of RE associated Rab GTPases. Transferrin is a well-known cargo marker as it recycles through REs and it is compared here to other cargo, revealing how different endocytic routes intersect with REs. We show how the movement of transferrin through REs can be modeled and quantified in live cells. Finally, since phagosomes are a signature organelle for macrophages, and REs fuse with the maturing phagosome, we show imaging of REs with phagosomes using a genetically encoded pH-sensitive SNARE-based probe. Together these approaches provide multiple ways to comprehensively analyze REs and the important roles they play in these immune cells and more broadly in other cell types.

Keywords: Endocytosis; Live cell imaging; Macrophage; Phagocytosis; Rab GTPases; Recycling endosome; SNAREs; Super-ecliptic pHluorin; Transferrin; Vamp3.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Endosomes / ultrastructure*
  • Half-Life
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / ultrastructure*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Phagosomes / ultrastructure
  • Protein Transport
  • RAW 264.7 Cells
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Transferrin