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Biochem Soc Trans. 2001 Aug;29(Pt 4):476-80.

Relationship between endosomes and lysosomes.

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Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Mechanisms in Disease, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2XY, UK. JPL10@CAM.AC.UK


Delivery of endocytosed macromolecules to lysosomes occurs by means of direct fusion of late endosomes with lysosomes. This has been formally demonstrated in a cell-free content mixing assay using late endosomes and lysosomes from rat liver. There is evidence from electron microscopy studies that the same process occurs in intact cells. The fusion process results in the formation of hybrid organelles from which lysosomes are re-formed. The discovery of the hybrid organelle has opened up three areas of investigation: (i) the mechanism of direct fusion of late endosomes and lysosomes, (ii) the mechanism of re-formation of lysosomes from the hybrid organelle, and (iii) the function of the hybrid organelle. Fusion has analogies with homotypic vacuole fusion in yeast. It requires syntaxin 7 as part of the functional trans-SNARE [SNAP receptor, where SNAP is soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor (NSF) attachment protein] complex and the release of lumenal calcium to achieve membrane fusion. Re-formation of lysosomes from the hybrid organelle occurs by a maturation process involving condensation of lumenal content and probably removal of some membrane proteins by vesicular traffic. Lysosomes may thus be regarded as a type of secretory granule, storing acid hydrolases in between fusion events with late endosomes. The hybrid organelle is predicted to function as a 'cell stomach', acting as a major site of hydrolysis of endocytosed macromolecules.

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