Ultrastructural and immunocytochemical characterization of autophagic vacuoles in isolated hepatocytes: effects of vinblastine and asparagine on vacuole distributions

Exp Cell Res. 1995 Dec;221(2):504-19. doi: 10.1006/excr.1995.1402.


The interactions between the autophagic and the endocytic degradation pathways were investigated by means of immunogold labeling of autophagic vacuoles (AVs) in ultrathin frozen sections from isolated rat hepatocytes. AVs were identified by their autophagocytosed contents of the degradation-resistant cytosolic enzyme CuZn-superoxide dismutase (SOD). Another cytosolic enzyme, carbonic anhydrase (CAIII), was rapidly degraded in the lysosomes, making the vacuolar CAIII/SOD ratio useful as a rough indicator of the progress of autophagic-lysosomal degradation. Lysosomes could be recognized by the presence of the lysosomal membrane glycoprotein lgp120, which was absent from hepatocytic endosomes. Endocytic inputs into the AVs were detected by the presence of gold-conjugated bovine serum albumin (BSA-gold), taken up by fluid-phase endocytosis. All vacuoles recognized morphologically as AVs were SOD-positive, as were essentially all of the lysosomes (96%). The majority (72%) of the lysosomes also labeled positively for BSA within 2 h of endocytosis. The data are thus compatible with the notion that all lysosomes can engage in both autophagic and endocytic degradation. Lgp120 appeared to distinguish well between lysosomes and nonlysosomal AVs: the lgp120-negative AVs (nonlysosomes) had a CAIII/SOD ratio identical to that of the cytosol, indicating that no degradation had occurred. In the lgp120-positive AVs (lysosomes), the ratio was only 43% of the cytosolic value, consistent with substantial CAIII degradation. Among the nonlysosomal AVs (about one-third of all AVs), one-half were BSA-positive, suggesting that early AVs (autophagosomes) and suggesting that early AVs (autophagosomes) and intermediary AVs (amphisomes) that had fused with endosomes were equally abundant. These morphological data thus support previous biochemical evidence for a prelysosomal meeting of the autophagic and endocytic pathways. The microtubule inhibitor vinblastine inhibited the autophagic influx to the lysosomes, causing an accumulation of autophagosomes and a reduction in average lysosomal size. Vinblastine also inhibited the endocytic flux, thereby precluding the formation of amphisomes and of BSA-positive lysosomes. High concentrations (20 mM) of asparagine induced swelling of amphisomes and of BSA-positive lysosomes, probably reflecting an acidotropic effect of ammonia generated by asparagine deamination. Asparagine also caused an accumulation of autophagosomes, amphisomes, and BSA-negative lysosomes, presumably as a result of impaired fusion with the swollen BSA-positive lysosomes. The two agents thus appear to perturb the autophagic-endocytic-lysosomal vacuole dynamics by different mechanisms, making them useful in the further study of these complex organelle interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / analysis
  • Asparagine / pharmacology*
  • Autophagy*
  • Biomarkers
  • Carbonic Anhydrases / analysis
  • Cattle
  • Endocytosis
  • Gold Colloid
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Leupeptins / pharmacology
  • Liver / cytology*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Liver / ultrastructure
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Lysosomes / chemistry
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / analysis
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / analysis
  • Vacuoles / chemistry
  • Vacuoles / drug effects*
  • Vacuoles / ultrastructure
  • Vinblastine / pharmacology*


  • Antigens, CD
  • Biomarkers
  • Gold Colloid
  • Leupeptins
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine
  • Vinblastine
  • Asparagine
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Carbonic Anhydrases
  • leupeptin