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Eur J Cell Biol. 2000 Jun;79(6):394-9.

Primaquine interferes with membrane recycling from endosomes to the plasma membrane through a direct interaction with endosomes which does not involve neutralisation of endosomal pH nor osmotic swelling of endosomes.

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Department of Cell Biology, University Medical Center and Institute for Biomembranes, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


The anti-malaria drug primaquine is a weak base which accumulates in endosomes in a protonated form and consequently neutralises the endosomal pH. Bafilomycin A1 prevents endosome acidification by inhibiting the vacuolar proton pump. Although both agents neutralise the endosomal pH, only primaquine has a strong inhibitory effect on recycling of endocytosed proteins to the plasma membrane (Van Weert et al. (1995), J. Cell Biol. 130, 821-834). This suggests that primaquine interferes with a parameter, other than endosomal pH, that is essential for membrane recycling. In the presence of 0.3 mM primaquine, endocytosed transferrin-receptors accumulated intracellularly, but not in the additional presence of bafilomycin A1. Thus, at relative low concentrations proton pump-driven accumulation of primaquine in endosomes was required to inhibit membrane recycling, suggesting that the target of primaquine is associated with endosomes. The inhibitory effect of 1 mM primaquine on transferrin receptor recycling was not reversed by the additional presence of bafilomycin A1, indicating that osmotic swelling of endosomes due to accumulation of protonated primaquine could also not explain its effect. To study endosome swelling morphologically, we introduce a novel technique for fluorescent labelling of endosomes involving HRP-catalysed biotinylation. In the presence of 0.2 mM primaquine endosomal vacuoles with diameters up to 2 microm were observed. Endosome swelling was not observed when in addition to primaquine also bafilomycin A1 was present, supporting the notion that vacuolar proton pump activity lowers the dose response for primaquine. Factors that are crucial for membrane recycling and may be affected by primaquine are discussed.

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