The small GTPase Rab5 is an important regulator of membrane fusion in the early endocytic pathway. Here we have studied at the light microscopy level the morphology of early endosomes in MDCK cells stably expressing a GTPase-deficient Rab5 mutant, Rab5 Q79L, N-terminally tagged with a myc-epitope. These cells contain large vacuoles, readily visible by phase-contrast microscopy. Confocal immunofluorescence microscopy showed the presence of the epitopetagged protein on large perinuclear vacuoles, as well as on smaller peripheral structures. A subset of the perinuclear vacuoles appeared to colocalize with the late endosomal GTPase, Rab7. In addition, a population of very large Rab7-positive, Rab5 Q79L-negative structures were observed, suggesting that an increase in the size of early endosomes may be accompanied by an increased size of later or more mature endocytic structures. Using antibodies against the myc epitope and the early endosomal autoantigen EEA1 as markers, we found that endosomes in wild-type and mutant MDCK cells rapidly tubulate in the presence of bafilomycin A1, an inhibitor of vacuolar H(+)-ATPase. Elongated or tubular endosomes partially colocalized with microtubules and were redistributed upon preincubation with the microtubule depolymerizing agent nocodazole before bafilomycin A1 treatment. Treatment of the Rab5 Q79L expressing cells with nocodazole alone led to a spatial redistribution and a significant decrease in the size of EEA1-positive structures, whereas their number increased. These results implicate microtubules in the bafilomycin A1-induced tubulation of endosomes as well as in the vacuolation of endosomes caused by Rab5 Q79L.