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J Biol Chem. 1998 Aug 21;273(34):21883-92.

Isolation and characterization of rat liver amphisomes. Evidence for fusion of autophagosomes with both early and late endosomes.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Institute for Cancer Research, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, Montebello, 0310 Oslo, Norway.


Amphisomes, the autophagic vacuoles (AVs) formed upon fusion between autophagosomes and endosomes, have so far only been characterized in indirect, functional terms. To enable a physical distinction between autophagosomes and amphisomes, the latter were selectively density-shifted in sucrose gradients following fusion with AOM-gold-loaded endosomes (endosomes made dense by asialoorosomucoid-conjugated gold particles, endocytosed by isolated rat hepatocytes prior to subcellular fractionation). Whereas amphisomes, by this criterion, accounted for only a minor fraction of the AVs in control hepatocytes, treatment of the cells with leupeptin (an inhibitor of lysosomal protein degradation) caused an accumulation of amphisomes to about one-half of the AV population. A quantitative electron microscopic study confirmed that leupeptin induced a severalfold increase in the number of hepatocytic amphisomes (recognized by their gold particle contents; otherwise, their ultrastructure was quite similar to autophagosomes). Leupeptin caused, furthermore, a selective retention of endocytosed AOM-gold in the amphisomes at the expense of the lysosomes, consistent with an inhibition of amphisome-lysosome fusion. The electron micrographs suggested that autophagosomes could undergo multiple independent fusions, with multivesicular (late) endosomes to form amphisomes and with small lysosomes to form large autolysosomes. A biochemical comparison between autophagosomes and amphisomes, purified by a novel procedure, showed that the amphisomes were enriched in early endosome markers (the asialoglycoprotein receptor and the early endosome-associated protein 1) as well as in a late endosome marker (the cation-independent mannose 6-phosphate receptor). Amphisomes would thus seem to be capable of receiving inputs both from early and late endosomes.

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